Rose City Band is celebrated guitarist Ripley Johnson. A prolific songwriter, Johnson started Rose City Band as an outlet nimble enough to match the pace of his writing as well as to explore songwriting styles apart from Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo. Rose City Band allows him to follow his musical muses as they greet him and not be bound by the schedules of bandmates and demands of a touring group.
On Earth Trip, Johnson's third album as Rose City Band and second for Thrill Jockey, the guitarist colors songs with a country-rock twang and a melancholic, wistful undertone. Themes recur such as pining for summers spent in the company of friends to newer meditations on space, stillness, and the splendor of the natural world. Johnson’s laid-back and classically West Coast songs communicate emotions entirely of the moment with both his lyrics, intimate vocal style as well as his elegant elongated guitar lines and astute use of counter-melodies on the pedal steel.
Earth Trip was written during the period of sudden shocks and drastic lifestyle changes of 2020, quite literally “called down off the road” as he sings in elegiac album opener “Silver Roses”. Home for an extended period for the first time in years, he was able to reconnect with simple pleasures of home life: hikes in nature, bathing outside, and waking with the dawn. Johnson found hope and healing in forming a more mindful relationship with the natural world, from the simple pleasures of tending a garden to sleeping out under the stars. “Lonely Places” in particular captures the sheer joy and freedom of losing oneself in nature, an ode to the wealth of natural beauty the west coast provides, as well as the importance of appreciating wild, open spaces. “In the Rain” seeks beauty and hope in life’s darker moments, while “Dawn Patrol” finds solace in the earth’s natural rhythms.
Recorded primarily at his home in Portland and mixed by Cooper Crain (Bitchin’ Bajas, Cave), the songs on Earth Trip make deft use of space through their lean arrangements, guest Barry Walker’s shimmering pedal steel, open and elongated guitar melodies, and upfront and intimate vocals. Johnson describes the arrangements this way; “I was trying to capture that feeling when you take psychedelics and they just start coming on - maybe objects start buzzing in the edges of your vision, you start seeing slight trails, maybe the characteristics of sound change subtly. But you’re not fully tripping yet. Cooper got the idea right away and his mix really captures that feeling.” Johnson’s lithe guitar playing treads an equally fine line between country and cosmic, melodies blooming into long reverb trails and solos evocative of radiant summer warmth.
Earth Trip’s message of interconnectedness with the environment expands on a long country music tradition that draws a symbiotic relationship between storyteller and the land, celebrating the beauty of the natural world without forgetting our responsibility to preserve it for future generations. It cements Johnson’s place as a musician and songwriter of inimitable skill.