SEDUCED BY… Maggie and Terre Roche

A
long-overlooked archival item from two-thirds of the Roches finds new life –
and proves its classic mettle – on a delightful reissue.

 

BY STEVE PICK

It’s not as though their 1979 appearance on Saturday Night Live turned them into
superstars overnight. For many of us, though, that version of Handel’s
“Hallelujah Chorus” arranged for three parts that sounded like four, was the
break-through, the moment we realized these women were something special that
we would follow musically for the rest of our lives. I say “many,” but I mean
an all-too small “few.”

 

In the 1980s, the Roches tried hard to turn their
unconventional harmonies and melodic surprises into commercial success, but
they never broke through in a pop music marketplace which allowed for
quirkiness, but only if it had a bigger beat. Those of us who knew, however,
believed them to be stars, and I’ll never forget the discovery that there was a
prehistory to the albums released as a trio. Seductive Reasoning was released by Maggie and Terre Roche four years
before younger sister Suzzy joined them on their “debut” record.

 

Now, with most of the classic records by the three Roches
out of print, this least well-known item in their discography is given a new
lease on life; Seductive Reasoning is
reissued this week by the Real Gone Music archival label. Ten songs, all
written by oldest sister Maggie (with one co-write by Terre), all delightfully
imaginative, were recorded over the course of a year in three different
contexts. One song was produced by Paul Simon (who had given Maggie and Terre a
break earlier by hiring them to sing background on There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, and I can’t believe I never noticed that
before; thanks, Wikipedia).  Three were
produced by former Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith. Six were recorded in Alabama with the classic Muscle Shoals rhythm
section.

 

 

 

 

While adding Suzzy to the group allowed for even more
versatile vocal arrangements, it was clear from the beginning that the deep
alto of Maggie and the flexible soprano of Terre could go places rarely heard
in pop music before this record. Better musicologists than I am can probably
trace some specific Broadway show-tune influences in the ways Maggie’s tunes
meander around rhythmically and melodically, not to mention her love for
internal rhyme schemes and puns. There is also little doubt that Paul Simon’s
records of the time served as a partial template, especially in the ways song
arrangements could be tightly organized while sounding so off-the-cuff.

 

It is, though, the all-encompassing Roche-ness of this
record that makes it such a delight to hear for the first time in decades.
“Underneath the Moon” is as crazy-quilt in structure and theme as the best
later material, such as “The Married Men” or “Nurds.” Maggie’s piano drives the
song, and the sisters sweetly croon with vicious irony, “Good men want a virgin
so don’t you give yourself too soon / ‘Cept
in an emergency like underneath the moon.” (Three out of ten songs have moon
references, which may have been a sign of the proto-astrological 70s times, or
may have just simply been acknowledgement that Maggie’s voice is uniquely
suited to pronouncing that long oo sound.)

 

“Wigglin’ Man” is a folk sing-along with bizarre imagery and
words that sound irresistible. “Malachy’s” is a song about dreaming of the big
time which doesn’t sound remotely interested in pandering to those who would
offer it. “If You Empty Out All Your
Pockets You Could Not Make the Change” is a nasty put-down with vocal gusto
provided by both sisters and backing vocalists the Oak Ridge Boys, of all
sources. And Maggie’s penchant for cutting to the emotional chase in matters of
the heart, while still enjoying the play of words, is apparent in “Down the
Dream” and “Burden of Proof.”

 

 

 

 

Seductive
Reasoning
never had a prayer of cracking the charts back in 1975, but
it still sounds fresh all these years later. The string arrangements on the
Samwell-Smith produced songs, the vibrant plunk of the Muscle Shoals sound (on
“Wigglin’ Man” augmented by none other than Johnny Gimble on fiddle), and the
delirious exuberance of Simon’s production all serve the Roche sisters well.
There was no attempt to force Maggie
and Terre into commercial corners, but to present these clever bursts of songcraft
and beauty in their best light.  These
songs do not deserve to be forgotten, so kudos to whoever decided to rescue
them from the ashbin of musical history. Now let’s get going on the other
missing Roches catalogue items.

 

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