Thursday, May 10, 2012

Michael Roach Is No Innocent Child

I recently had the pleasure to see Michael Roach at a performance in Falls Church, Virginia. Mike and I had an association with the DC Blues Society two decades ago, and I had been following his maturation as a performer over the years after he left his native Washington and moved to England. He has also become important as a blues educator and historian. Innocent Child is his most recording on his Stella Records label, and the source of many of the songs he performed that April night in Falls Church, Virginia.

Michael, who currently lives in Cheltenham, England, was fortunate to be mentored by such blues artists as John Cephas, Archie Edwards, John Jackson and Jerry Ricks, has developed into a formidable performer of the blues, rooted in the East Coast finger-style tradition. On this recording he is joined by harmonica master Johnny Mars on several selections as well as the Black Voices, an a-cappella group from Birmingham England. There is a selection of originals and personal interpretations of songs associated with Frank Stokes, Mississippi John Hurt, Josh White and Charlie Jordan.

The title track is a part autobiographical, part reflective about blues and the place of the African-American in the world. his children and the Black Voices join in this performance where he even evokes Mannish Boy singing he ain’t no “B-O-Y.” Mars adds his harp to a nice rendition on Frank Stokes What’s the Matter Now, where his finger style playing recalls John Hurt through the prism of Jerry Ricks. Michael noted in Falls Church performance that Ricks shared a tape that Hurt made for Ricks to teach Ricks his style. Rick’s influence is also present in performances of Hurt’s Got the Blues and Can’t Be Satisfied, and Staggerlee. Music at the Close of Day was written by Richard Journet after John Jackson’s passing, and Michael here reworks it for his heartfelt remembrance of Ricks.

There are several gospel performances here including Remember Me that is based on recordings by the Swan Silvertones and the Harmonizing Four. This, with the Black Voices, is performed in tribute to John Cephas. The Black Voices also join Mike on Jesus Knows I’m Coming that was originally recorded by Josh White with the Carolinians, and “Didn’t It Rain,” associated with the great Mahalia Jackson. Johnny Mars backs Michael on this rendition of the traditional number, Noah

More in the Piedmont blues tradition is Michael’s dynamic acoustic rendition of Junior Parker’s Mystery Train, as well as Be a Man, an evocative number adapted from a Brownie McGhee recording to which Michael added his words. The lyrics make reference to Detroit and DC, while the superb guitar playing would have made Blind Boy Fuller proud.

The varied repertoire here is matched by Michael’s natural, heartfelt vocals and adroit and thoughtful guitar. The result is the marvelous music on “Innocent Child. For more information on this recording and Michael Roach visit, and

This was a recording I purchased. Here is a video of Michael and the late Louisiana Red.

No comments: