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(16 August 2009) There have been great passions in Anna Rose Menken's 24 years, and then there has been music. "More than anything, I have always straight-up just totally and truthfully loved it," she says. And always she has been a little nuts about guitars. Anna Rose started playing at age 5, after an older cousin brought one along to a holiday family gift exchange. She has always known that she would perform and record as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist-pianist. She has written the songs and co-produced her forthcoming album Nomad with William (Billy) Sullivan, and the five songs from which comprise her sensational current Anna Rose EP (Sally Apples Music (USA) 8 84501 18099, 2008).
After early years of teaching herself, Anna Rose began to study with Arlen Roth, the celebrated guitarist who has performed with Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and illustrious others, and who wrote the book 'Masters of the Telecaster'. Anna Rose calls him "the best living guitarist on the face of the planet," pointing out that he encouraged her to listen to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy.
Her mother used to dance ballet and her father is Alan Menken, the celebrated and widely influential pianist and theater and film composer. She danced, played sports, rode a lot of horses and cleaned a lot of barns. She fully appreciated and learned copiously from her father's work and world yet sometimes -- to his complete delight -- critiqued them, finding in a school essay major fault with the Middle Eastern politics she found inherent in Aladdin, the 1992 Disney film he scored.
On Anna Rose, songs like the guitar-rich "Picture" and the atmospheric ballad "Wilshire Blvd" proceed with an elegant ruggedness that comes from Anna Rose's life-long attraction to rock and roll from the halcyon days of 60s and 70s southern California, and she sings them with an effortless-sounding soprano gravity. "I love that Mulholland Drive, rock-songwriter, star-tripped, holed-up-in-a-house-drinking-gin-and-smoking-weed-writing-songs thing," she says. "I think that's why I moved to California when I was 18, and the place will always be that to me, even though it wasn't that for me. I remember driving up on Mulholland Drive, for example, one night after I'd played one of my gigs in LA I was with Billy Sullivan. It was like I had found a place in the music world." The lineup for the EP is rounded out by Adam toler (guitars), Tyler McDiarmid (guitars), Jamie Bishop (bass), Jordan Pertson (drums and percussion), Arlen Roth (guitars) and Leon Pendarvis (piano, synths, organ).
Anna Rose believes that this leather-and-suede foundation of her creative worldview accounts for why, in her music, Anna Rose takes stylistic routes not often encountered among female singer-songwriters. The process involved a lot of full takes, no Auto-Tune, and "maybe one synthesizer," Anna Rose estimates. "I did intentionally go for a gritty sound but I also come from a background where, since I was a little kid, I've seen the best people in the world record. I know what it takes to make a great record, and it's not one take. Sometimes it is one take -- sometimes the first vocal that you do is the most honest. But you've got to do all these other takes to realize that."
Anna Rose's music on songs like "The Four Corners," about friends dispersing across time and space or "You Got It For Free," a Springsteen-Dylanesque confrontation of personal difference -- recalls that of young bands like Kings of Leon who are inspired deeply by the classic past yet shun retro simulations. "I listen to all these people," Anna Rose says, "who I wasn't alive to ever see play. I think I'm always trying to capture that, to imagine what it would have been like to have seen people like that live." Listen to her tracks on the singer's MySpace.
On "In the Morning View," which Anna Rose calls one of her poppier songs, she writes about going out to clubs. "You play a person at night," she says. "When I was younger, I would go out to these places -- after-hours clubs I had no business being in. I would go out, then the next morning I'd go back to the barn and shovel horseshit. And I would be
like, 'Oh, this is who I really am.'" On Anna Rose, wearing her guitar, that's basically who she is, too, one terrifically talented and grounded girl.