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Maggie Rose Goes Big In Many Ways On ‘No One Gets Out Alive’

Sophia Matinazad

When Maggie Rose first appeared on The String in 2022 (Episode 180), we met an artist who’d remade herself for a changing business. While she’d gotten envy-making opportunities coming out of college, she’d chafed at the stylistic limits and sexist programming at country radio. We learned how she’d restructured her career as an indie artist managed by her husband, about the transition album celebrating that (Change The Whole Thing of 2019) and about the career breakout that she’d just released, Have A Seat. With yet more growth in sound and visibility on her latest No One Gets Out Alive, it was time to have her back.

“Every album, especially the last three, has been a deeper and deeper level of self discovery,” she says in Episode 284. “None of them were really outcome oriented. And I didn't have a label being like, Okay, we need this record. I made all of these projects because I wanted to. And it's been great to connect with a bigger audience through each release. But I think you have to make music for yourself and because that's what you do. You should have a compulsion to do that. And this was definitely the most vulnerable effort of mine.”

Don’t take vulnerable to mean pensive or quiet. Building on the soul/roots hybrid of Have A Seat, her latest calls in the big guns in the form of string arranger Don Hart and a 64-piece orchestra recorded in Eastern Europe. Halfway through the opening title track, the contemplative song about living large and in the moment gets shockingly large itself, raising goosebumps with oceans of strings - and Rose somehow outsinging them with her magisterial alto.

She says her team compared the passages to Paul McCartney’s 1973 theme song for the James Bond film Live And Let Die. “That big ending that always surprises everyone,” Rose muses. “I was almost scared of it. And it set the tone for the entire recording process because they're like, What are you waiting for? This song is about going for it.”

It’s not the only way Maggie Rose has gone “big” with this new release. In an unexpected move, the defiantly independent artist signed with Nashville label Big Loud, a powerhouse publishing and record company whose success has largely come from ultra commercial country acts like Florida Georgia Line and Morgan Wallen. “I was as surprised as anyone,” Rose says about it working out, but she shares the story of how Big Loud came to her looking for a wider range of artists and projects that have critical cachet and a developed audience.

Rose is an artist who’s heard label people say “we love what you do; we just don’t know what to do with you” and others who’ve said, in essence, “we love you what you do; can you just change?” There was none of that with Big Loud. “They didn't want me to write for another single. They didn't want me to change the sequencing of the record,” she said, for it she had independently recorded and mastered it. “They didn't have all these notes and things that we had to go back and fix. They were truly accepting of this project. And they also wanted to help rerelease my last few projects as well. They were buying into the whole story.”

No One Gets Out Alive picks up in some ways where Have A Seat left off. The song that most carries forward its feel is the early single “Underestimate Me,” with its frisky funk and its rapid fire verses. “Fake Flowers” has been rolling hot at radio this spring with a 6/8 R&B sway and a plea to be treated with candor and dignity. “Mad Love,” a song that didn’t quite make Have A Seat, is a darkly delicious piece of noir with a Latin beat. And the album’s closer “Another Sad Song” makes a truly emotional benediction and a complete album experience. Helping all this soar is a cast of Nashville musicians that includes guitarist Sadler Vaden, keyboard master Peter Levin, and drummer Chad Campbell.

To be perfectly candid about it, in a city and Americana scene with plenty of gifted artists, Maggie Rose is my favorite singer right now. Her voice has astonishing power and range, tempered with subtle dynamics and a rich, timeless tone. One comparable talent is the technically flawless Susan Tedeschi of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, with whom Rose has been sharing dates, and even here I find Maggie’s phrasing a bit more earthy and moving. Her songs, written by herself or with a cast of fascinating masters from Natalie Hemby to Pat McLaughlin, give that voice just what it needs to find a progressive fusion of soul, country, pop and rock and roll with mass market possibilities. With an organization like Big Loud behind her, that vision is going to get its best shot yet. I ask Rose if she’s going forward with reasonable expectations or the highest of hopes.

“I think if you asked me this a year ago, I would say my dreams don't fly as high as they used to. I don't feel that way anymore,” she tells us. “I feel really reenergized. And it's partly because of my pride in this music and (in) everyone's hard work around me. But it's so much about how people have rallied around this project and helped me really believe again in what I'm doing. So I'm believing that there is no limit.”

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of <i>The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org</i>