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June 7, 2012

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Maggie & Terre Roche

Seductive Reasoning

(Real Gone Music/Sony)

Before sisters Maggie and Terre Roche formed the Roches with third sister Suzzy, the duo released in 1975 the often overlooked Seductive Reasoning, providing uncommonly frank and feminine glimpses of the complications of sexuality. It’s temporally between the veiled post-deflowering uncertainty of The Shirelles’ 1960 track “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” and the more candid, glossy stylizations from Madonna in the ’80s, but it shares more with the “shyly brave” approach of Liz Phair in the mid-’90s—direct, yet not without insecurities, plus second-wave feminist attitudes. Take for example the album’s closer, the brilliantly written and intensely moving “Jill of All Trades,” about a fiercely independent, conflicted, sexually-free itinerant professional, with the lines “Runnin’ into luck south of the border/Why you wanna get stuck with a needle and a kid?” showing the titular character rejecting motherhood and its traditions with a pre-Roe v. Wade Mexican abortion.

The Roches’ touchstones are already present on Seductive Reasoning, like the sisters’ trademark vocal harmonizing and a pervasive slightly off-kilter and sly attitude alongside more earnest declarations.  Three songs mention the moon, ostensibly as a romantic symbol, but it’s more a representation of hormonal lunacy and irrationality. Musically, the Roche sisters occasionally saunter into string-enhanced piano balladry and approach Carole King-type singer/songwriter territory, but mostly they lean toward folk and country influences, employing the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section for half of the album and even the Oak Ridge Boys and Paul Simon on one number. Ironically, these songs belie their traditional and homespun sources with a more enlightened perspective, epitomized in the song “The Mountain People” with the line “I’m accepted to a school in the mountains/But I fail the mountain people.”

This recent reissue of Seductive Reasoning, which has been out of print for years, sounds great, but fans should note that it contains few enhancements (Maggie Roche’s song-by-song notes are disappointingly scant). Still, it’s a welcome reissue of a neglected album, showcasing the underrated songwriting talents of Maggie Roche.

Joel Grip

Pickelhaube

(Umlaut)

In the liner notes of his new solo album, Pickelhaube, Swedish contrabass improviser Joel Grip writes, “In these times, most shallow behaviors are presented as if the deepest of engagements and beliefs. We are dressed up in a fictional all-in-one hat, the helmet and the warhead: Die Pickelhaube.” Roughly translated, “Pickelhaube” means “Pimple helmet,” which seems to provide more absurdity than clarity to the title. With some vague political underpinnings, what Grip apparently is trying to express is the need to sometimes step away from ourselves and have an open mind, free to look at things under the surface.

Grip’s mind is not only open, but also figuratively split open, with Pickelhaube being a musical brain dump—a glorious, spilling mess of emotions and ideas, conveyed abstractly. Solo-free improv, such as that heard on the album, is arguably the most unfettered, personal and direct kind of musical expression. On Pickelhaube, available on vinyl and as a digital download, Grip doesn’t create a showcase of extended techniques but instead goes with pure spontaneous feeling; the uninitiated may often find free improv, without conventional structures or scales, to be the hardest kind of music to understand, but actually, there is nothing that needs to be understood.

On the album’s opener, Grip harshly grinds the strings with his bow, creating unsettling, violent rattles and sounding as if he were grappling with his bass in a street fight before winding down, exhausted. It’s followed by an atonal piece with harmonics, utilizing a non-industrial repetition that evokes a sort of shambling, squeaky playground ride. The lengthy third number, with a translated title of “Swedish Missile Plant Conscience,” uses a flurry of plucked notes with no effort taken to hide Grip’s conspicuously audible heavy breathing, suggesting an intense workout that’s disciplined and yet free. Like the rest of the album, a difficult, adventurous, and intriguing listen, it’s like a direct line to Grip’s circulatory and respiratory systems, translated into sound.

by

June 7, 2012

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