Maybe we’re all too defeated with the dreary assumption that regional sounds and city scenes are a thing of the past — a world before the internet bred makers and thinkers into islands. But America is still a place, rock & roll still rules, and there’s history and story pulsing through our voices and songs whether we believe it or not.
I first heard Angelica Rockne and her band a few years back in a basement bar in San Francisco. The tunes, her voice, the band, and Blake Severn’s guitar playing really knocked me out — I remember thinking, well holy hell, this sounds like California. Not a verbed-out surfs-up California, not San Francisco, nor Los Angeles, but everywhere else, all the small towns and dark bars, desolate people and dirt roads, the mountains or the forest or the desert, the places we drive through, the rural west, where Bakersfield isn’t just a place, but a sound, a history, an ethos — it’s country music without the tropes, cosmic but still emotional, live and raw but well-played.
The songs on “Queen of San Antonio” aren’t autobiography, but there’s a sense of time to them, a somewhere. Rockne was born in California, but lived a nomadic life as a child and young adult, moving every few years across the country until finally settling in Nevada City as a 23 year old. “These songs were born in a very inspiring time. There was a lot of love and heartbreak and something I’d never experienced before: sticking around. I’ve been a wanderer my whole life, and then all of a sudden I was rooted in a deep way and committed to one place and community. A lot of the songs draw from that small town dynamic, a feeling of solidarity, a sort of thick-as-thieves loyalty.”
Recorded at Tim Green’s studio in Grass Valley with Blake Severn on guitar and bass, Neil Layton on drums and keys, and Pete Grant on pedal steel, the album was recorded over a span of six months in 2016. The arrangements are performances — earnest, unencumbered, and deeply reverential to both the classiness of the Byrd’s “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” and the guts of T.Rex’s “Electric Warrior.” Rockne’s voice is of it’s own dimension. There’s a delicacy in delivery that’s reminiscent of 60s songwriters, coupled with moments of something totally unhinged, psychedelic, and point-blank rock & roll. More consistent though is her unequivocal emotiveness, that can be described as nothing other than classically country.
Lyrically these songs feel like fragments of dreams — of past, present and parallel lives that are happening or close to the touch. The lyrics are non-linear, they’re married to the melodies, and they’re romantic without necessarily being about love. This is an album with an undeniable permanence. There’s a history to this music that’s perhaps more emotional and sensory than actually historic — something felt, something sensed, a mistaken nostalgia maybe for something that’s right here in the present, happening in all the quiet, dark corners of this country.Angelica Rockne ✽ Guitar, vocals