They aren’t “The Roches” of the past, but the mother-daughter duo of Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche have reclaimed the magic of their unique family vocal blend to create something new and magical. They have a new album out called I Can Still Hear You and it is a wonderful listen. Created amidst the Covid 19 lockdown, the album is both healing and inspiring, at times haunting and often uplifting. At its root is the positive power of creating art and music which can help one get through the most challenging of life circumstances.
For those not in-the-know, Suzzy Roche (pronounced “suhzz-ee”) was one third of a trio with her sisters Maggie and Terre. Emerging in the late 1970s, they had a trajectory which found them being produced at times by no less than Robert Fripp (of King Crimson fame) and establishing a global reputation for their wondrous and genuinely unique sound. Meshing a lush, mysterious Bulgarian-flavored harmonic style with the distinctive DNA-driven phenomenon of sibling vocal blending, The Roches were at once musically mesmerizing and fun.
If you don’t know what I mean about Bulgarian harmony, lets take a little side journey for a paragraph. First, think about the group known as Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (click here to see/hear them The Tonight Show performing from a Grammy winning album… be sure to watch to the end where they sing “Oh Susannah”!). In recent years Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance even toured with them (click here). Also consider some of Kate Bush’s recordings which incorporated those sorts of harmonies (click here to see a bit of a BBC documentary on her work with Trio Bulgarka). As I got deeper into this music I discovered there was a group in the 1960s performing this music called The Pennywhistlers with numerous albums out on the Nonsuch label (click here to see them performing on a Pete Seeger TV special in 1966!).
Back to The Roches, they blended that sort of harmony through their own distinctive take on folk and pop musics, delivered through a unique family vocal blend. By that I mean the genuinely unique sound that can only be created when family members sing together. Some prime examples include The Everly Brothers, The Beach Boys, The Staples Singers, The Cowsills, The Jackson Five, The Bee Gees and many others.
Lately she has teamed up with her daughter, Lucy Wainright Roche, for concerts and new recordings. I didn’t realize they had two prior albums out already — I have some catching up to do!
Their latest, I Can Still Hear You, is a beautiful recording. Stylistically the music here is a bit more straightforward in the singer-songwriter realm and it works for this duo and for these fine songs. Some of the songs which jumped out at me are the title track and its lush follow on, “Ruins” — I especially love the production of the latter especially which feels at times like they are backed by Beach House or the softer side of Caspian with big ambient drum sounds and a rich sense of drama that beautifully supports the lyric.
Wisely they don’t try to recreate the sound of The Roches yet there is undeniably something special going on with their Mother-Daughter vocal blend (which is why I brought all that up earlier in this review). There are, in fact, two moments of connective glue to The Roches’ past including a new interpretation of a traditional ballad — “Factory Girl” — which first appeared on their second album as a trio, Nurds, in 1980. And in a touching tribute, they perform a previously unreleased Maggie Roche (RIP) song called “Jane,” which had long been a favorite of Lucy’s.
“Swan Duck Song” is about as close as the duo get to classic Roches territory in that there is some humor in the tale, but really it is their own vibe here. Their touching cover of Kermit The Frog’s “Bein’ Green” is a poignant way to wrap up the album in a rich near-country flavored arrangement.
I Can Still Hear You sounds really quite wonderful and timeless as modern CDs go. This is all the more incredible really when you stop to consider that it was recorded during Covid 19 lockdown in multiple locations. Consider that Suzzy and Lucy recorded their vocals literally in their bedrooms.The album was produced in Nashville by Jordan Hamlin (who also handles all manner of piano, drums, percussion, sequencing, etc.). Longtime associate Stuart Lerman mixed the album in Hoboken, N.J. There are even guest musicians including Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of The Indigo Girls!
Do check this out if you are a fan of Suzzy and Lucy or The Roches in general or simply just great singer songwriter acoustic flavored pop. Its fantastic that we can still hear fine new music from the Roches’ universe on I Can Still Hear You.