October 2000

Suzzy Roche - Songs from an Unmarried Housewife and Mother, Greenwich Village, USA
Red House Records RHR CD 136
Released: 2000

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]My favorite tunes out of the 12 songs on Suzzy Roche’s new CD, Songs from an Unmarried Housewife and Mother, Greenwich Village, USA, are "Cold Hard Wind" and "Love Comes to Town." They are the ones that move along quickly without belaboring their content -- all of the songs have lyrics too simple to justify belaboring, but many receive more ponderous treatment than those two.

"Cold Hard Wind" begins, "You can’t reason with a cold hard wind." The album’s most country-influenced song, it features Loudon Wainwright and Jules Shear on vocal harmony, with Wainwright also picking a banjo, David Mansfield on dobro, two drummers, bass, a second banjo, and an accordion. It’s quiet country, though; Roche’s style is gentle. She lets the songs settle on the listener like a drizzle in contrast to so many Nashville country storms.

Clever and succinct phrases drive "Love Comes to Town": "Love comes to town on a blue jeaned leg/In a pick up truck and a plastic crate." This one also hustles in terms of tempo and also won’t blast over barroom conversation as a jukebox favorite despite its wealth of instruments, including the same two drummers, Frank Vilardi and Sammy Merendino. With the warmth/cold metaphor for love and its absence of love, we hear of love "sneakin’ up on you in the A & P/Somewhere in frozen foods there’s a tropical breeze."

Being up-tempo, as opposed to slow, and emphasizing rhythm, as opposed to relying on melody and letting rhythm go by the wayside, are obviously not the only useful criteria for evaluating a song, but those qualities have a lot to do with my singling out those two songs for praise in this CD. That’s because Unmarried Housewife rarely diverges from its main topics -- couples’ love relationships and lack of same, as hinted by the disc’s name -- and because Roche’s soft voice, which often is downright lackadaisical, rarely varies in affect. Besides, the songs quoted above are just as melodic as the slower, more ponderous and self-indulgent ones.

I say "self-indulgent" because ultimately, I think, the songs on this CD only go partway toward transcending the merely personal, even though they are pleasantly arranged and not at all difficult to listen to. There are those, of course, who love The Roches, and Maggie and Lucy Roche perform as special guests on this album. I don’t claim to know their repertoire extremely well, but I have heard them many times over the years.

Often I find their music clever or pretty and sometimes even somewhat interesting -- never particularly unpleasant, but not capable of breaking through the complacency prevalent in singer-songwriter material marketed to the ranch-house-and-stock option segment of the Bob Dylan generation. That complacency sometimes manifests itself in obsession with interpersonal relationships masquerading as insight or philosophy, whereas folk music, whose instruments, musical and lyrical forms, and styles are co-opted in Unmarried Housewife, traditionally addresses much larger concerns.

As important as "relationships" are, though, and despite their sometimes affecting public affairs, they are only one topic worthy of artists’ attention. Even sung about cleverly, melodically, and sensitively, as on this CD, they cannot be everything. With pop culture drowning in lyrics and images about them, and with so many public matters regularly brought to our attention, I would think songwriters would have more to say and would take more interest in their audiences and forces shaping their world.