By Eleni P. Austin
Some people are born to make music; it’s in their blood, a destiny they can’t deny. That is how it is for Jasmine Rodgers, who has just released her first full-length solo album, Blood Red Sun.
Jasmine was born in London, England in 1976 to Machiko Shimizu and Paul Rodgers. At the time, her dad was already a Rock & Roll superstar.
He began his career in the ‘60s, first as the vocalist for Free, and then he seamlessly segued, forming and fronting Bad Company. The hard rock Super-Group, which featured members of Free, Mott The Hoople and King Crimson, were signed to Led Zeppelin’s boutique label, Swansong. They were massively popular on both sides of the pond from 1974 to 1982.
Rodgers went on to front other Super-Groups, in the mid ‘80s it was The Firm with Jimmy Page. Twenty years later he accepted the daunting challenge of stepping into the late Freddie Mercury’s shoes and recording and touring with Queen. He is currently a successful solo artist.
Jasmine started singing before she could talk, began learning piano at age four and guitar at 11. Even then, she considered herself a musician, but not necessarily a performer. Growing up, music gave her inspiration and provided solace.
Her influences were wide ranging and eclectic. Everyone from Led Zeppelin to Billie Holiday, Reggae, Ska, British Folk, Nirvana, Blondie, The Cure, Django Reinhardt, Siouxise & The Banshees, Fugazi and PJ Harvey.
She hadn’t really considered music a career, and was seriously studying art and zoology, but then her older brother Steve started a band, Boa. Formed in 1993, the band evolved from Funk to Indie Rock. They enlisted Jasmine to sing back up on one track and liked her voice so much she was conscripted into the band while still in high school. Boa lasted in various permutations until 2005.
After Boa broke up, Jasmine seriously contemplated a career in Zoology, but the pull of music was too strong. She has spent the last 10 years woodshedding, playing live and has recorded a well-received EP. But a Spring-time trip to the desert, specifically, Joshua Tree and Thousand Palms, inspired her latest batch of songs.
Returning to Great Britain, She sought out Sean Genocky, owner of Rockfield Studio. A much in-demand producer, he is also guitarist for Red RaceR. Knowing the band had recorded their debut at the infamous Rancho de La Luna studio in Joshua Tree, she figured he was the perfect choice to help shepherd her new songs through the recording process. The result is her first full-length album, Blood Red Sun.
The album opens with the one-two punch of the title track and “Taken.” Jasmine’s fleet fretwork dominates on “Blood…” the desolate melody and mood recalls Gustavo Santaolalla’s dusty instrumental, “Iguazu.” Her warm contralto insists “The sun will guide you, the sun will shine on you/Burn a hole inside of you, you will learn as you burn.”
“Taken” is also stripped to the bone. Circuitous arpeggios loop through the melody. Jasmine’s dulcet tones can’t conceal concern for a friend who seems to have had it all, only to let it slip through his fingers. “It seems a shame to have it figured out, only to find you’ve lost it all.”
Way back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, British Folk bands like Fairport Convention and Planxty made explicit the confluence between Middle Eastern and Celtic music. Led Zeppelin took it a step further with songs like “Gallow’s Pole” and “Kashmir.” On a couple of tracks here, Jasmine mines that same rich territory, armed only with her trusty guitar.
With “Let It Burn” rapid-fire acoustic riff-age sears the Celtic mist, revealing an arid ode to insomnia. The desert requires nocturnal adventure. “In the evening I’m awake, chasing dreams beside the weather.” “Icicles” traverses more frigid terrain. Here her nimble acoustic guitar licks split the difference between bouzouki, oud and mandolin. The tune is accented by Dan Carey’s off- kilter percussion. The lyrics chart the course for that most intangible vision quest, an emotional rescue.
Although most of the album shines the spotlight on Jasmine’s tart vocals and virtuoso guitar, four songs, “Between The Spaces,” “Underwater,” “Sense” and “Shaping Up To Be” feature additional instrumentation.
As “Between Spaces” opens, piquant electric guitar riffs collide with chugging acoustic guitar and urgent percussion. Jasmine’s vocals ebb and flow as the tempo accelerates and she cryptically reassures a potential lover, “I won’t be you, you won’t be me, we won’t say anything till the space is filled again.”
On the expansive “Underwater,” celebrated singer-songwriter Scott Matthews layers in guitar work that pivots from crisp to knotty. He also contributes percussion and backing vocals, while Danny Keane supplies sawing cello runs.
But it’s Jasmine’s vocals that truly command the listener’s attention, as she equates heartbreak with the over-powering sensation of drowning. She pleads “Take me from the water’s edge, I need to feel released from there,” and then reveals “these times I learn I am tortured, time will take me and show me what I need.”
On “Sense” sinewy guitar riffs snake through the first verse over a tick-tock rhythm, suddenly the drums kick in, shifting the track into overdrive. Here, Jasmine’s mien is arch and dismissive as she spells out her expectations for a relationship; “Everybody needs to be believed, so then why don’t you put your faith in me?”
Finally, “Shaping Up To Be” is a sunny, minor-key charmer powered by shimmery acoustic guitars, sparkling mandola and a hiccupping back beat. Optimism shines through as she sings “I think of you ‘coz you’re sweet and you’re deep and I love you more than I can know/And I’m taking my time to be here and to love you, safe from the places I told you I left behind.”
It seems clear from “Follow You” and “Milky Way,” that a failed romance partially motivated Jasmine’s desert sojourn. On the former, a delicate lattice of acoustic guitar is buttressed by doleful cello accents. Equal parts pensive and pastoral, it recalls the graceful music of late, great Nick Drake. There’s a longing in her voice that betrays her more rational words. She easily admits she hasn’t completely let go; “Still eyes closed I follow you, still eyes closed I love the view.”
The latter seems more spiky. Over plinky riffs, she breathes in her surroundings; shutting the door on the failed romance, she is consoled by the beauty within her grasp. “A shooting star aimed itself at you, you’re not afraid, it’s a bolt from the blue/You make a wish ‘coz you know this is happiness.”
The album closes with the winsome lullaby “While You Were Sleeping.” Ukulele-flavored guitar chords mirror Jasmine’s playful attitude as she surreptitiously studies a lover. It’s a sweet finish to an adept collection of songs.
Other musicians who helped shape Jasmine’s vision are guitarist Hotei Tomoyasu, plus drummers Dan Kavanagh and Charlie Morton. Producer Sean Genocky provided extra guitar and his Red RaceR mate John Hogg is the album’s MVP, adding bass, percussion, backing vocals and mandola.
With Blood Red Sun, Jasmine Rodgers officially steps out of the shadow of Boa, as well as her very famous father, Paul. Soaking in the desert landscapes, she recalibrated her experiences and created rich soundscapes. The warmth of the sun shines through the songs.