Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
On her second album, crooner Whitney Rose, who grew up learning to love classic country like Hank Williams in her grandparents' bar on Prince Edward Island, Canada, where she also got her first listen to The Mavericks and other rock and pop-inflected country. On "Heartbreaker of the Year," she calls on the talents of The Mavs' lead singer Raul Malo to produce as well as backing her on guitar, percussion and vocals. She assembled a group of stellar musicians to back her on this collection of eight originals and two covers ("Be My Baby" and "There's a Tear in My Beer"): Drew Jurecka on strings, Jay Weaver on bass, Nichol Robertson on guitar and mandolin, Burke Carroll on pedal steel, lap steel and Dobro and The Mavericks' Jerry Dale McFadden on keyboards and Paul Deakin on drums.
The album kicks off with a lively tune that sets the tone for the rest of the album's steel-drenched poems of desire, loss, wronged hearts and defiant hearts. "Little Piece of You" opens with piano chords straight out of Andrew Gold's "Thank You for Being My Friend," but moves swiftly into a Sixties pop groove reminiscent of "Where Oh Where Can My Baby Be," stormed by Robertson's thrumming surf guitar on the bridge. The chugging rhythms of "The Last Rodeo" capture the tumultuous emotions of the singer's heart as she prepares for uncertainty and loss, but defiantly declares that she's ready to ride. McFadden's tinkling honky tonk piano drives "The Last Party," a classic country weeper, punctuated by Carroll's moaning steel.
Malo joins Rose on the cover of The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and turns the song into a slow-burn, a smoldering promise born of molten desire. The minor-chord dominated title track delivers a funky and bold declaration that "I-won't-get-fooled-again" and neither will others when they get finished crowning their heartbreaker of the year. The only miscue is Rose's take on Hank Williams Sr.'s "There's a Tear in My Beer"; she slows the tune down impossibly, turning it into a song more at home in a movie like "The Wizard of Oz" than a country song.
Rose's affecting voice winds its way gracefully and powerfully around the music, successfully delivering 10 pleasant tracks that showcase her skills.