Personnel: Whitney Rose (vocals, acoustic guitar); Raul Malo (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, percussion); Nichol Robertson (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin); Burke Carroll (lap steel guitar, dobro); Drew Jurecka (strings); Jerry Dale McFadden (piano, organ); Paul Deakin (drums).
Audio Mixer: Niko Bolas.
Recording information: Pacha Sound, Toronto, ON; Revolution Studios, Toronto, ON.
Photographer: Jen Squires.
Whitney Rose is a Canadian country singer and songwriter in love with the countrypolitan era. For her, the Nashville of Peggy Lee, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, and new traditionalists Keith Whitley and Patty Loveless still exists. Her acclaimed self-titled 2012 debut displayed that to some degree, but Heartbreaker of the Year proves it definitively. It was produced by the Mavericks' Raul Malo, who also sings and plays on it, accompanied by some of his bandmates, as well as Canadian guitar slinger Nichol Robertson and others. What's most interesting is Rose's singing voice: it sounds thoroughly contemporary, even as it recalls Lee's sultry pop approach, Dolly Parton's sincerity, and Tammy Wynette's confidence. Speaking of Wynette, the cover here of Phil Spector's "Be My Baby" is thoroughly retooled, with Malo and Rose recalling the late queen's duets with George Jones. The other remake is an understated reading of Hank Williams' "There's a Tear in My Beer." The rest are Rose's songs, and they shine. The bluesy title track, with its nocturnal Telecaster twang and finger-snapping rhythm, can only be called "country noir." "Little Piece of You," with its upright piano, whining pedal steel, and tight guitar shuffle, lies right on the seam between countrypolitan and vintage girl group pop. "The Last Party" is a honky tonk weeper, with backing vocals from Malo. The ache in the lyric is underscored by the simmering passion in Rose's delivery. She has plenty of sass too, as uptempo tracks "Lasso" and "The Devil Borrowed My Boots" attest. The former melds vintage country & western and surf while the latter has a vamp that recalls "Harper Valley PTA," but has more shimmy than swagger. Heartbreaker of the Year reveals that Rose can craft killer hooks, deliver slippery lyric turns, and create provocative juxtapositions in her arrangements to accommodate her voice. On this album she extends the boundaries of classic country music without erasing its boundaries or sacrificing it to the realm of nostalgia. Heartbreaker of the Year is one of 2015's most welcome surprises. ~ Thom Jurek