English singer/songwriter/guitarist Mike Rosenberg (known as Passenger) has the charm of the ambiguous voice.
Heard right out of the gate on Coins in a Fountain, his vocal recalls Austin Powers’ proclamation “She’s a man, baby!” But his rapid fire delivery on 27 puts any question to rest as he rasps and cusses his way through a catalogue of frustrated efforts and wasted youth on his fifth album, Whispers.
Rosenberg/Passenger is riding the tide of U.K. folk along with acts like Mumford and Sons and Dry the River. But the folk tag is misleading, often mislabelling acoustic-based contemporary music with non-pop lyrics.
Whispers falls on the dusky edge of acoustic oriented songwriting, striking an even balance of vitriol and Yesterday-like musings on nostalgia in Golden Leaves.
When darker shading and subjects are called upon in Hearts on Fire, things get interesting, as Led Zeppelin, Sandy Denny and Leonard Cohen have earlier demonstrated when dealing in the alternative folk idiom.
As a vocal personality, Rosenberg has strong presence. He recalls ‘80s-’90s WTF? singers like Mick Hucknall (Simply Red) and Tracy Chapman. Rosenberg’s voice is a gravelly instrument that’s articulate, a contrast to his sensitive guitar picking.
His lyrics are startling; a barking diatribe or longing lament, done in the form of a story song. When he sticks to this he’s in his element and the music rings true. He veers off briefly on the inappropriately titled Thunder with an uninspired chorus, then steps quickly back to form on Start a Fire. He then stays connected to his rough muse on Riding to New York, a gaunt end-of-the-line travel tale.
Rosenberg writes with an insightful edge and stays close to the moment.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest releases for The Morning Star.