Sibling harmonies are invariably sited for the unmatched quality that results from the close similarity of the voices – from the Everly Brothers to the Pointer Sisters. But the Roche sisters’ one-of-a-kind blend comes from three very dissimilar voices. Terre climbs the upper register, Maggie can hit low notes that would make Junior Brown jealous, and Suzzy weaves around all points in between. But the blend is all their own and can be stunning to hear.
As the Roches, the trio came to prominence in the neo-folk scene of the late ’70s, recording a self-titled gem with sparse backing – essentially the girls’ acoustic guitars with Tony Levin’s economical bass, producer Robert Fripp’s electric fills, and some synth textures. Along with the sisters’ smart, often humorous songs, it was folk with a new wave (almost punk) sensibility, and it earned them an immediate cult following.
Owing in part to the lack of imagination at major labels, they eventually succumbed to filling out their sound with full band backing – not surprisingly with less success. After 10 albums, they went on hiatus to pursue other things, including solo and duo projects. Their return, 11 years later, is, if anything, an even more accurate snapshot of the trio as singers and songwriters – hold the drums, thank you. Suzzy and Maggie play guitars and piano, with Maggie also providing bass, while Terre handles bass, uke, and a variety of guitars, including a Tibetan damyen. Stewart Lerman layers bass, guitar, and percussion, but the net result is like a simple, classy setting for a priceless jewel. Nearly 30 years after their breakthrough debut, this sounds like its logical followup.
In addition to the beautiful melodies of Suzzy’s “Us Little Kids” and Terre’s “September 11th At The Shambhala Center,” there’s the rocking “Gung Ho” and a fantastic cover of “The Naughty Lady Of Shady Lane.” Their friend “Paranoid Larry” contributes two of the CD’s wittiest tunes, “No Shoes” and “Jesus Shaves,” but top honors in that bag go to their own “Piggy Mask,” set to a bossa nova beat.
Suzzy’s daughter, Lucy, sings one of the few solo vocals, on her composition, “Long Before.” Not surprisingly, it offers yet more proof that talent indeed runs in this family.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jun. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.