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The current vehicle of singer-songwriter/guitarist Mike Rosenberg, after the rest of the quartet/quintet (headed by fellow composer Andrew Phillips) took flight, PASSENGER’s `Let Her Go’ is now (spring 2013) a No.1 hit all over Europe.
Founded in 2003 in Brighton and Hove, Sussex, the Mike Rosenberg Band (as they were then billed), plied their stock-in-trade folky alt-pop at various local venues without much fuss; one 45 was released, `Philadelphia’, in 2006, which featured a DOT ALLISON remix on the flipside.
Duly adopting the PASSENGER moniker, Mike (born 17 May 1984), Andrew, plus Marcus O’Dair (bass), Richard Brincklow (keyboards) and Alon Cohen (drums), the team supported the likes of The HOLD STEADY and KATE NASH. Their debut album, WICKED MAN’S REST (2007) {*7}, received positive reviews; Mike’s light and airy, English-centric vocals lying somewhere between DAVID GRAY, The STREETS and JAMES BLUNT. Surely one-that-got-away, the wry wit of the man was evident on the lonely, introspective cuts `Table For One’, `Do What You Like’, `Night Vision Binoculars’, `Needle In The Dark’ and the title track; a single `Walk You Home’ was not included on some versions.
Things looked bright for the band when, after writing songs for the BBC short film, Where Have You Been All Your Life? (starring James Corden), they trekked to Austin, Texas’ SXSW festival of 2008. At odds at where the main man was taking the group, Phillips amicably parted company, as did the rest of the PASSENGER alumni, leaving troubadour Mike to steer the ship all on his lonesome.
It mattered not to the man as he self-released three albums, WIDE EYES – BLIND LOVE (2009) {*6}, the fan-club only DIVERS & SUBMARINES (2010) {*5} and the duet-friendly FLIGHT OF THE CROW (2010) {*7}, while finding a fresh and appreciative audience as he duly busked the sunny streets of Australia, where they adopted him as their own. The latter acoustic-styled folk set was augmented by Antipodean contemporaries, JOSH PYKE, KATIE NOONAN, Jess Chalker, ELANA STONE, etc., fitting in nicely to fragile tunes like `What You’re Thinking’, `Bloodstains’, `The Girl Running’ and `Month Of Sundays’.
Signed to Sony/Nettwerk Records, 2012’s ALL THE LITTLE THINGS {*9} deserved all the accolades, albeit a year late. Previewed by the delicate groover, `Let Her Go’, and supplemented by the equally catchy `Things That Stop You Dreaming’, the banjo-bolstered `Staring At The Stars’, the Edinburgh-namechecking title track, `The Wrong Direction’, `Patient Love’, `Feather On The Clyde’ and the crudely cynical live encore, `I Hate’, et al, one couldn’t fault folk-rock’s newest little light, Mike Rosenberg.
Just when waiting for the proverbial bus (or the next DAMIEN RICE album) might seem an age away, up popped PASSENGER’s Chris Vallejo-produced follow-up, WHISPERS I (2014) {*7}. Making an impact all around the globe, the thinking man’s ED SHEERAN had his audience hook line and sinker; honoured by his now, characteristic dulcet vocal tones. Not a million miles from his previous starship enterprise, singer-songwriter Rosenberg shared his poetic twee-ness through semi-anthemic uptempo/downtempo dirges such as `27’, `Coins In A Fountain’, `Heart’s On Fire’, `Ring To New York’, et al.
With all profits going to UNICEF’s campaign to aid starving children in Liberia, hopes were high that WHISPERS II (2015) {*7} could perform as well as his previous albums. A near Top 10 in Britain, thankfully the balance of finger-pickingly-good folk and acoustic singer-songwriter motifs were true to his melancholy spirit. Best of all, `David’ (an honest portrayal of the today’s homeless) and the lovelorn `Fear Of Fear’ and `Catch In The Dark’ were dangerously tear-jerking, in fact most of the compulsive pieces pull at the heart-strings – without letting go.
Dividing reviewers down the middle, but chalking up a chart-topping album nonetheless a la YOUNG AS THE MORNING OLD AS THE SEA (2016) {*8}, upwardly-mobile PASSENGER Rosenberg had left his doubters at the station. Whether it was down to cutting the 10-song set at NEIL FINN’s Roundhead Studios in Auckland, and then on to Linear Studios in Sydney, the record did have a certain picturesque landscape embedded into each lush and orchestrated number. Waxing lyrical with Hampshire’s “Skinny Love” hit-maker BIRDY on the Baroque ballad, `Beautiful Birds’, PASSENGER had extended his wings to fly high among the sound-clouds. And with the sunny MUMFORD-ish `Anywhere’, there should really have been his next hit – given time? If to rain on his parade was some critics’ way of dampening down the man’s upliftingly idiosyncratic larynx, then one only had to give another ear to the sophisti-pop/folk of `Everything’, `If You Go’, `Somebody’s Love’ and the Sunday-morning title track.
Surplus to requirements in an America that only had space for country, rap and metal, the prolific PASSENGER continued to chase a Top 5 position in indie folk-fixated Britain via THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF (2017) {*7}. Rosenberg’s sweet and painfully romantic vignettes (think CAT STEVENS) had best effect on `Simple Song’, `Walls’ and the title track.
Rosenberg and his PASSENGER pseudonym chalked up album number nine, the Chris Vallejo-produced RUNAWAY {*8}, at the end of August 2018; it just missed out on a Top 5 place. Restoring some faith Stateside on Nettwerk Records, once again (Mike’s dad was born in New Jersey), the singer-songwriter’s musical sojourn took on a rootsier road trip approach by way of his ancestral connections; a renewed confidence had the man waxing lyrical on finest forays, `Hell Or High Water’, `Heart To Love’, `Let’s Go’ and the CALEXICO-like `To Be Free’.
The reason for Rosenberg’s decision to release the rather low-key SOMETIMES IT’S SOMETHING, SOMETIMES IT’S NOTHING AT ALL (2019) {*6} was at first unclear, that is, until one read the footnotes and its dedication to the plight of the homeless. The charity nature of the 10-song mini-set (all proceeds to Shelter) left it ineligible from the charts, but it recouped its cost after just one day. A nice touch from a reluctant star, the solitary and solemn cuts ran deep. Chamber-folk for a freezing-cold day thinking of the less well-off, PASSENGER painted his bleak, poignant portraits from `Restless Winds’ to `Winter Coats’.
© MC Strong Apr2013-Jun2019

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