Two Piece Puzzle by Rosalie CunninghamRelease date: February 25, 2022
Label: Esoteric Antenna
It’s been nearly three years since Rosalie Cunningham released her acclaimed sole self-titled debut album on the Esoteric Antenna label in 2019. It’s hard to imagine what kind of strange experiments that she’s cooking up inside her laboratory. Her follow up release, Two Piece Puzzle adds layers of psych-pop, folk, jazz, and metallic crunches like no other!
Her partner, Rosco Wilson work well together as a team to bring the stories to life during the Lockdown restrictions. She and Rosco are like the two detectives; Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Both of them trying to add up the clues, bit by bit, and see where it would take them to solve the case. What they’ve done is that they jammed at Rosalie’s house by working out the demos with an amount of overdubbing.
Therefore, the chemistry between the two of them on Two Piece Puzzle is an excellent combination. And while it took time for the recording process, the result on her second album is so impressive, it gives you an enormous punch in your stomach so hard, it is like a hardcore knockout fight.
Beginning with the dooming spaghetti western ‘Start with the Corners’, it has an Overture-sque introduction in a heavier approach of The Who’s 1969 rock opera Tommy with some wah-wah grooves. And they come at you from one corner to another! And we come to the two-part story of ‘Donovan Ellington’ and ‘Donny, pt. Two’ starting out with a Byrds-sque guitar riff.
You can tell that both Rosalie and Rosco did an amount of homework for inspiration to bring the story to life. But there is something ‘Corporal Clegg’ about this song.
Channeling the combination between Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets and the song ‘Wreck’ from Gentle Giant’s Acquiring the Taste, they bring in Fairport Convention violinist Ric Sanders to bring the sorrow and mournful sea textures. You can imagine Rosalie as a pirate sailing from different shores. With the waves crashing, she cries out to the gods by being mad as hell.
But on the third track, it has a sing-along jig. It transforms into a punching bag in the chorus revealing that Donovan’s time in America isn’t as peachy keen as he thought it would be. He has noticed that there’s a dark side in the States. It’s quite a surprise between good and evil surrounding the story.
The psychotic poetry of ‘The War’ is Rosalie diving into the ocean by channeling 10cc’s ‘Somewhere in Hollywood’ and her approach to Lewis Carroll, Bryan Ferry’s spoken dialog on ‘The Bob (Medley)’ and the angry Scotsman from Roger Waters during the Ummagumma period on ‘Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict’ before seguing into the 1920s with ‘Duet’.
Sung with Rosco, it’s has this Monty Python-sque surrounding about the song. You feel the sense of humour between the two during the silent comedies of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin before the talkies began with its vaudeville arrangement. Not only they watched the original King Kong starring Fay Wray, but there’s a nod to the Fleischer cartoons from Betty Boop and the three two-reel animated shorts of Popeye, along with two Bugs Bunny shorts from Bob Clampett, Falling Hare and Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid.
Just imagine them both writing an alternate score for those animated shorts. It works like a charm. As the first four minutes has this music hall sound, it transforms into a midsection returning to the ‘Unsung Overture’ from Desire’s Magic Theatre for a brief moment, tipping her hat to George Hudson, and ending in the styles of Graham Bond’s mellotron waltz, ‘Love is the Law’.
Like Steven Wilson who hasn’t forgotten his roots with Porcupine Tree, Rosalie hasn’t forgotten Purson. She lets her fans know that the spirit of Purson is inside her heart. And she’s keeping that machine, up-and-running.
‘Tristitia Amnesia’ starts off with a Surrealistic Pillow-era in the Krishna district. The only thing I wish the first minute of the song that Rosalie had used a real sitar to add that raga rock vibration. Not only Rosalie is singing, but I can vision her dancing in the style of the Bharatnatyam by taking us on a guided tour to unknown worlds to search for the hidden manta.
Then, all of a sudden, it becomes a heavier glam-rock attitude in the next section. Channeling Marc Bolan’s style of Sandy Denny’s vocal arrangements, it becomes a striking roller-coaster ride with heavy riffs, and prog-rock organ chords that would make labels from Harvest or Vertigo Records get notice about her to dine on a delicious song like this.
If you think the story of Donovan Ellington is over and done with, guess again. ‘Scared of the Dark’ is a reprise of ‘Donny, Pt. 2’. Rosalie isn’t finished with the Blacksmith just yet. You can hear aspects of ‘Death’s Kiss’ thrown in, along of a mellowing lullaby with the mellotron flute coming in.
But just as Rosalie starts to do a duel with her three fencing sword, she heads back with her guitar, making this rumbling sound by making something rise out of the grave to create this giant cry. ‘God is a Verb’ is a calm after the storm. Here, she enters the echoing acid folk caves dealing with spiritual journey on how the words can fill up the void while ‘Suck Push Bang Blow’ is a revved-up motorcycle composition.
When you hear a title like that, you think of the 1966 TV series, Batman. Just vision that song being played in those fight scenes in each season as Adam West, Burt Ward, and later Yvonne Craig dealing with those criminals, punching and kicking them with the words describe the impact.
And then in the final section, Rosalie raises the Mjolnir calling down the three masters; Tony Iommi, Frank Zappa, and the slicing flavors of Nektar’s Roye Albrighton to bring it all home as we come to the end for ‘The Liner Notes’. Now this is where it gets very interesting.
Here, she moves from the doom and prog approach, into a psychedelic jazz-pop orientation. Combining John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Vince Guaraldi, and the final section honouring Harry Nilsson’s ‘Gotta Get Up’ from Nilsson Schmilsson.
It is amazing for her to honour Nilsson’s music. Therefore, Harry would’ve been thrilled for Rosalie to honour his legacy. The finale has a structure to focus on the good times whilst riding on this merry-go-round to focus on the future and moving forward with your life.
The two bonus tracks which was released as a single last year during the pandemic; ‘Number 149’ and ‘Fossil Song’ are as powerful, tragic, and trippy at the same time. But it gives you the magical ideas to give listeners a chance that there are more ideas to come in the years to come.
Rosalie has scored another home run between the World Series and the Super Bowl with Two Piece Puzzle. She has come a long way to prove that she’s a fighter, and never giving up on her love of music.
Robin Williams once said, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. And if you lose that, you’re nothing. Don’t ever lose that. Because it keeps you alive.” For Rosalie Cunningham, she hasn’t lost that spark in the psychedelic, glam and progressive rock movement.