Suzzy Roche

Songs From an Unmarried Housewife and Mother, Greenwich Village, USA
(Red House)

"Unmarried housewife and mother" is a job description that probably rates a couple of points higher than "folk singer" in the current job market, and Suzzy Roche is all three, which makes her pretty much screwed. But that doesn't seem to bother her, and that's what makes her album and its title so perfect. On her second collection, the freewheelin' Roche poses on the sleeve jumping across an icy patch of street with her big black dog; it's a tiny picture of urban hassle and domesticity, just like the songs she's painted inside. Roche's breezy delivery gives the impression that no matter what the situation, she's going to whistle a happy tune. But rather than a reliance on Pollyanna-ish platitudes or overt political agendas, it's her willingness to share her spare songs in intimate settings that makes her traditionally folk.

In the years after their folk singing sister act the Roches went on hiatus, following their father's death, Suzzy, the youngest of the trio, retreated to care for her daughter Lucy (whose father is folk singer Loudon Wainwright III), and to do a bit of acting and songwriting. Her first solo album was 1997's Holy Smokes, a meditation on grief and loss. Presumably feeling more confident after the debut and bolstered by a similar cast of friends and family, Roche stuck close to home on Songswith repeat collaborators: songwriter Jules Shear, producer Stewart Lerman, and sister Maggie, with daughter and ex-husband Wainwright nearby. "G Chord Song" ("It's gonna sound just like everybody else's ...") is a Roche sister-like novelty penned by Maggie. Wainwright and Shear handle hillbilly harmonies on Shear's "Cold Hard Wind," while Wainwright plucks banjo. "To Alaska With Love" is an epic love story, the kind that songwriters love to tackle, and Curtis Stigers sits in on trumpet for the cocktail jazzy "Out of the Blue." "Love Comes to Town" embraces the potential for new love, while the wistful "No Such Thing as Love" obviously has its doubts. "Sweetie Pie," an expansive piano and violin ballad, sounds like a movie love theme -- not of the blockbuster Carly Simon variety, but more like the subtle ones from Warren Zevon and Randy Newman. Tasteful player David Mansfield picks up the dobro and pedal steel throughout; producers Lerman and Roche have just the right, crisp touch. Roche sings out strong rather than getting played down in a creaky, back porch mix (which must've been tempting with a voice as sweet and old-fashioned as hers).

Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, Victoria Williams, and Ani DiFranco, among others, have taken bits from the Roches, and true to form, the imitators have replaced the originators in the public consciousness. But unlike folk diva Joni Mitchell, from whom Roche no doubt learned a thing or two, Roche doesn't find ways to consistently remind people of her contribution. The songs from this unmarried housewife and mother, down the ages, will speak for themselves.

 
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