Published Apr 17, 2015Following Whitney Rose's excellent self-titled 2012 debut, news that the Toronto-based songstress had enlisted Raul Malo of roots-rock heroes the Mavericks to produce a follow-up sure sparked anticipation. Pleasingly, Heartbreaker of the Year justifies the buzz around its release. With mainstream pseudo-country plumbing new depths, an album defiantly rooted in a classic countrypolitan style while still sounding fresh is a welcome arrival. Rose's clear and passionate voice evokes Patsy, Kitty and Dolly, and she has very quickly evolved into an effective songwriter. She explores the familiar honkytonk tropes of loves lost (she's the heartbroken, not the heartbreaker, in the title track) and good girl being bad ("The Devil Borrowed My Boots Last Night"), but comes up with nice turns of phrase, like "Holes in both of our hearts, contest of the scars" on "Lasso," an album highlight.
A dream team of players is featured on the album, with Malo bringing in fellow Mavs Jerry Dale McFadden, Jay Weaver and Paul Deakin, while Rose recruits her fluent guitarist and close musical collaborator Nichol Robertson. Further embellishing many of the songs are steel player Burke Carroll and strings wizard Drew Jurecka (Jill Barber). The combination of steel and strings brings the risk of sappy sentimentality, but happily, that's averted here. Malo plays guitar and contributes tastefully restrained backing vocals on such tunes as "The Last Party" and "Only Just A Dream," and teams with Rose for a charming duet take on "Be My Baby." That and Hank classic "There's A Tear In My Beer" (given a lullaby lilt) are the only two covers here. The fact that Rose's original tunes captivate the most is a positive indication of the potential of this young talent. (Cameron House)