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The Roches

+ {Maggie and Terre Roche} + {Terre Roche} + {Suzzy & Maggie Roche} + {Suzzy Roche & Lucy Wainwright Roche} + {Afro-Jersey}

Singing as an a cappella sister act in New Jersey since the late 60s, siblings Maggie, Terre and Suzzy Roche, became quite a musical commodity when PAUL SIMON (who’d been impressed by the intelligence of Maggie’s songs and voice) requested their presence on his 1972-recorded `There Goes Rhymin’ Simon’ album; the absent Suzzy was still school age. Now under the wing of Columbia Records at the request of Paul (and recorded with his team at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios), MAGGIE and TERRE ROCHE issued their first long-player, SEDUCTIVE REASONING (1975) {*7}. Not exactly folk music, but certainly representing a two-part harmony hybrid of the genre along with barbershop doo-wop, bluegrass and gospel, the impressive set shone through via ballads such as `West Virginia’, `Jill Of All Trades’ (geddit!), `Malachy’s’ and the uptempo `Underneath The Moon’. With comparisons flying in from all angles (DORY PREVIN, JUDEE SILL, MELANIE, et al), the record also produced a sense of old-timey fun through `Wigglin’ Man’, `If You Empty Out All Your Pockets You Could Not Make Change’ and `Telephone Bill’ (a person rather than your quarterly statement). Near-tragically, their efforts were largely ignored and they briefly relocated from their New York City base to a retreat in Louisiana.
Almost quitting showbiz, the pair were reinvigorated when Suzzy left her college studies and agreed to join her sisters; they latched on to a revived Greenwich Village folk scene not witnessed for nigh-on two decades. Of course, punk-rock and new wave were in vogue at the time, but the sibling trio were a pleasant diversion, even if their rollicking antics were a tad genteel beside their spiky-haired counterparts. Plying his guitar licks in moderation, the ROBERT FRIPP-produced debut THE ROCHES (1979) {*9} – delivered for Warner Brothers – opened with their autobiographical signature tune `We’, a pithy, tongue-in-cheek start to an awesome career. Soaring above the clouds like some heavenly angels, Maggie (deep alto), Terre (soprano) and Suzzy (a mixture of the two) achieved greatness on gems such as `Hammond Song’, `The Troubles’ (about apprehensions on the way to Ireland), `Runs In The Family’, `Pretty And High’ and `The Married Men’; the latter song was covered by PJOEBE SNOW.
Not as well received as their Top 60 debut, NURDS (1980) {*7} identified the trio, at times, on a par alongside prickly punky girl-group The RAINCOATS, although some might say they were closer to the Andrews Sisters (example `The Death Of Suzzy Roche’ and the a cappella revamp of Cole Porter’s `It’s Bad For Me’). Irish traditional song `Factory Girl’, regained some purist folk momentum, while the intentionally out-of-tune and off-kilter `One Season’ was a probably a stab at the sign of the times.
Reuniting the trio with Robert’s “Frippertronics” (a feast to behold), their third album, KEEP ON DOING (1982) {*5}, was both spiritual and uplifting with mixed results stemming from a recital of Handel’s `The Hallelujah Chorus’ and the exquisite, JON ANDERSON-like(!) `Losing True’. Oft tongue-twisting and lyrically astute, The ROCHES apparently fell into too many categories and loopholes, and, although they broke many musical borders and scripts, songs like `The Largest Elizabeth In The World’ and DAVID MASSENGILL’s `On The Road To Fairfax County’ were either too complex or too twee. Now the second wife of LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III (whose previous wife was KATE McGARRIGLE), Suzzy settled into some domesticity for a time. Released some three years later, ANOTHER WORLD (1985) {*5} continued the sisters’ graceful close-harmonies by way of The FLEETWOODS’ `Come Softly To Me’, amongst others. It was their final album for Warners, although a 4-track EP, `No Trespassing’, was issued for Rhino Records.
Resurfacing on the M.C.A. stable, SPEAK (1989) {*7} was an effective, although commercially-attuned return to form; stand-out tracks stemmed from `The Anti-Sex Backlash Of The 80’s’, `Big Nuthin’’, `Cloud Dancing’ and `Person With A Past’. Matching cascading cadences and high-pitched pyrotechnics, all with a touch of uncompromising a cappella dexterity, this set was accessible without going overboard.
The yuletide WE THREE KINGS (1990) {*6} was a perfect match of simple carols and traditional, fireside festivities in song-form; who better than The ROCHES to get out their best Brooklynese accents via `Angels We Have Heard On High’, `Frosty The Snowman’ and `Winter Wonderland’. 1992’s A DOVE {*7} completed their time at M.C.A., another triumph for the trio, with tender moments such as `Beautiful Love Of God’ and `Maid Of The Seas’ tying up with `Ing’ (a lyrical discipline where every word ends with “ing”), plus `Somebody’s Gonna Have To Be Me’.
On the back of baby-boomer/children’s CD, WILL YOU BE MY FRIEND (1994) {*5}, CAN WE GO HOME NOW (1995) {*6} garnered some country charm courtesy of `You (Make My Life Come True)’ and the Cajun-esque `Move’. Another clever album, their wordplay and banter took a back seat on the straightforward `So’ and the piano-led, Streisand-esque `Christlike’.
All taking a sabbatical of sorts, the siblings went their own way via solo sets and a few collaborations. SUZZY ROCHE was first to catch the proverbial worm with HOLY SMOKES (1997) {*6}, a jazzy-cool, countrified RICKIE LEE JONES-like effort that had its moments through `The Second Coming Of Eli’, `ABCs’ and `Pink Ballet Slippers’.
With tradition and folklore back on the musical agenda (at least by way of the opening salvo, `Yankee Doodle’), Suzzy’s SONGS FROM AN UNMARRIED HOUSEWIFE AND MOTHER, GREENWICH VILLAGE, USA (2000) {*7} was somewhat of a family affair, although the WAINWRIGHTs (Loudon III & daughter Lucy) were two parts, sister MAGGIE ROCHE was one part. If one were to pick out the choice cuts here, one would have to vouch for `No Such Thing As Love’, `To Alaska With Love’, `Suit And Tie’ and `Love Comes To Town’; look out too for CURTIS STIGERS and DAVID MANSFIELD.
TERRE ROCHE’s only solo CD (with Maggie on board on three tracks) came with THE SOUND OF A TREE FALLING (1998) {*6}, a record that deserved better than its independent-only release; recommended tracks are `Blabbermouth’, `Nobody’s Doing The Job’, `New York City Pakistan’ and the title track. Two sisters that were doing it for themselves, SUZZY & MAGGIE ROCHE, found social spirituality and neo-righteous religion through the hymnal and gospel-driven collaboration, ZERO CHURCH (2002) {*7}; the post-9/11 `New York City’ comes across as their most heavy-laden and heartfelt song, while `A Prayer’ took the viewpoint of an AIDS sufferer talking to a Vietnam veteran. Red House Records also delivered the duo’s follow-up, WHY THE LONG FACE (2004) {*6}, a return to less moribund fare and re-treading old nuggets like `One Season’, `La Vie C’est La Vie’ and `Broken Places’.
Yes, it was time for a ROCHES reunion. Comeback set MOONSWEPT (2007) {*7} was a little child-like and simplistic in its lyrical approach (daughter Lucy was afforded one tune, `Long Before’). Prime examples were found on opener `Us Little Kids’, `No Shoes’ (one of two – other was `Jesus Shaves’ – scribed by bawdy bearded buddy Paranoid Larry); there was also room at the inn for a cover of Roy Bennett & Sid Tepper’s `The Naughty Lady Of Shady Lane’, and a record close to their heart and origins, `September 11th At The Shambhala Center’.
Busying themselves of late, the family continued to spread their gospel on albums from FAIRYTALE AND MYTH (2013) {*5} – by SUZZY ROCHE and LUCY WAINWRIGHT ROCHE, AFRO-JERSEY (2013) {*5} the pseudonymous nom de plume for Sidiki Conde, Terre Roche and Marlon Cherry, plus TERRE ROCHE’s IMPRINT (2015) {*5}; the latter with producer Jay Anderson on bass and percussion.
Sadly, on 21st January 2017, Maggie Roche succumbed to cancer; aged 65.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2015-Jan2017

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