Monday, December 17, 2012

Michael Roach Has The Good New Blues

Former DC Blues Society president Michael Roach has been resident in England for several years now. He has become an influential performer as well as promoter and educator of blues there and in Europe where he has organized blues conferences and an annual Blues Week. At Blues Weeks, he has brought over as instructors the late John Jackson, Larry Johnson and Phil Wiggins among others. He has continued to develop as a blues performer too and as a songwriter and has two recent (as of 2003) recordings, Good News Blues and the just released Cypress Grove on his Stella Records label. 

The earlier disc, Good New Blues, also features sympathetic harp accompaniment from Ian Briggs and includes a number of Roach originals along with his often-topical originals including Pleading Insanity and the amusing Vote For the Wino on which his wife and daughter add an amusing chorus backup. He has become more than an adept guitarist too, which is not surprising when he was mentored by the likes of John Jackson, John Cephas and Jerry Ricks. And his adaptations of classic blues themes are not slavish recreations of earlier recordings.

With a bouncing riff, he reinvigorates Trouble is Mine as well as pays his respect to Big Bill Broonzy on a nice Keep Your Hands Off (Her). Bumble Bee Slim’s recordings are not often performed today, but Roach’s rendition of Bricks In My Pillow suggests that this popular blues artist from the 30’s deserves some reconsideration. The late Otis Williams penned the title track, and Mike integrates Williams’s recitations of his poetry into this fine performance. A reworking of the traditional Alberta that closes a varied and very enjoyable set of performances follows a heartfelt gospel performance Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed.

The just issued Cypress Grove is dedicated to the late John Jackson and found Michael recording a number of songs that he knew and recorded if only for archival purposes. In his own words on this recording Michael chose “to go for original sounds rather than releasing original material.” Included are Roach’s interpretations of Skip James’ Special Rider and Cypress Grove, Blind Boy Fuller’s So Sweet, and Furry Lewis’ Brownsville Blues, along with his renditions of traditional material like Lonesome Valley, C.C. Rider, Go Tell It on The Mountain and What Month Was Jesus Born. Again he brings his own touch to this material and sings in a simple, direct manner with plenty of sincerity. That Roach does Lewis’ Brownsville Blues is telling because Lewis is not simply among Roach’s favorite blues artists, but Roach’s guitar playing suggests Lewis’ style with its nicely rhythmic focus. 

There is an original from Roach as well as the closing song about the closing of the coal mines in Britain, Hard Times For the Working man, written by Bernie Marsden of the rock group Whitesnake. Another varied program that is full of heartfelt performances that demonstrate just accomplished a blues guitarist Michael Roach has become, but also how strong a performer he is. Information on these re- leased including how to order them can be obtained from websites, and/or, and it is well worth the effort in trying to get these.

The above review appeared in the July-August 2003 DC Blues Calendar and these releases still should be available directly from Michael. I have made a few stylistic changes. As performances he made earlier in 2012 in the DC area showed, he is among the finest living country blues performers. Here is Michael with harmonica player Johnny Mars at the 2008 Pocono Blues Festival.

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