How we react in the face of adversity says a lot about us as people. Unfortunately, some people barely hold on, but those that do manage to reclaim some semblance of normality and themselves, inadvertently inspire those around them. This is why Rose & Cigarettes sophomore album Echoes and Silence is an extraordinary release that not only looks at the past but moves forward beyond lead singer Jenny Pagliaro’s battle with Stage IV cancer.
It is important to provide some context here first to those new to these LA rockers. With the release of their debut album back in 2015, Roses & Cigarettes were set to ignite their career, when in the middle of that same year Pagliaro was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. The shattering news delayed any further thoughts of touring to promote their album as Jenny’s health and her fight with cancer took precedence. Things for a while improved but four years on, Pagilaro’s prognosis worsened to the point where now Stage IV breast cancer holds her mortal frame captive days and maybe even weeks where she doesn’t feel like doing anything at all. The fact that she persists getting up every day, even during her darkest days, to make music and play shows, is a lesson to all of us.
Almost a year and a half ago, I interviewed Pagilaro as to why she remains so positive. At the time she said to me it was because ‘music is healing’. She would also add that “…continuing to write songs really pushes me forward and makes me realize that this diagnosis doesn’t have to stop me from living the life I want to. I am still alive! I have time to accomplish the things I want to. I just had to adjust what I always thought it would look like. There are definitely more challenges, and we have to be more particular about a lot of things because of my health. Angela helps to push me forward and doesn’t ever let me quit.”
Jenny’s unwavering colleague and friend Angela is, of course, Angela Petrilli, Roses & Cigarettes acoustic and electric lead guitarist and the one person who truly understands Pagliaro. Their friendship and the utter goof ball moments they’ve shared over the years has cemented a bond between them that no one will ever come close to undoing. It is also one of the reasons this duo work so well as a collaborative force on their new album Echoes and Silence which for my mind really feels like a second coming.
It’s fair to say that this new album has all the hallmarks of their classic Californian sound we heard on their self-titled debut album. But in a lot of ways it is sonically superior which is a testament, for instance, to Petrilli’s amazing ear for musicality and her ability to draw on her influence from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Led Zeppelin. In an exclusive recently for music publication Wide Open Country, Petrilli talked about the title track, Echoes and Silence, and how she came up with the instrumental on guitar before presenting it to Pagliaro.
“I sent it over to Jenny and told her, ‘I know it’s a little weird, if this inspires you at all, go for it. I think there is something here.’ Jenny listened to the track and immediately wrote a beautiful melody filled with dark and light imagery, that was strung together by a mantra. Once we wrote it, we immediately started playing it out at shows, and both of us started to truly feel that his song was the beginning of a deeper level of songwriting exploration for Roses & Cigarettes moving forward.”
With Roses & Cigarettes seemingly at the top of their game on the album’s sprawling title track, Back To You, California Going Home and the earthy bluesy rocker Bones On The Ground are also wonderful surprises that delight. With their infectious passion and energy knowing no bounds, Petrilli in particular, makes most of her Strat and Tele electric guitars, while her Martin OM 28 V makes light work of many of the acoustic arrangements. But it’s not just the music that brings this album to life, it’s Pagliaro’s beautifully woven lyrics that shine here too.
Importantly, the inclusion of several tracks across the album, which addresses Pagliaro’s fight with cancer adds weight to how extraordinary this album is. On Fast As I Can for instance, she does everything humanly possible to not circumnavigate the issue. For someone who isn’t shy about talking about her illness, it makes sense that Pagliaro chose to use her voice to exorcise some of her demons, because quite frankly her cancer is a big part of her life. And it likely always will be.
Elsewhere, the duo deliver beautifully woven ballads in Love Song and Whispers in the Wind (Stacie’s song) and Pagliaro’s ode to the fiery beginning of a relationship on Feel the Fire stands arguably as one of the albums best tracks. It truly begs for repeated listens in which it incidentally features the incredible handywork of Chris Lawrence on pedal steel. Additional contributions on the album are also made by Vic Vanacore on drums and percussions, Bobby Victor on keys and organs and Michael Lyons, who not only played the bass but also produced this incredible album.