Songwriter and percussionist Stephen Roach comes from a long line of wanderers. From Scandinavian Vikings to French Huguenots, Roach's forebears were a searching, seeking people. They sought the freedom of wide open spaces and new lands. Their wandering eventually led them to America -to the mountains of North Carolina, where their collective restlessness found a harbor in the music of the hills and in the heights of the Appalachians.
A similarly restless quality marks Stephen Roach's music. Though inflected with the tones of his ancestors, Roach's sound wanders into previously uncharted territory. His feet may be planted firmly in the American soil of rock n' roll and folk, but Roach's heart beats out a rhythm from across the waters. From hurdy gurdies to hammer dulcimers, Roach reaches beyond the pale of Western music to embrace modes and melodies of the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia.
As the frontman for the experimental acoustic group, Songs of Water, Stephen Roach has been no stranger to ethnic music and freeform improvisation. However, on his first solo album, Closer to the Burning, Roach moves away from strict abstraction and ambience into the confines of a more traditional Western song form. And he sings. Capturing a kind of college rock feel, Closer to the Burning showcases Roach's voice and gentle lyricism in a way that invites comparison to indie rock darlings, both past and present.
Roach's subject matter tends to the esoteric--the pursuit of a hidden lover; the practice of the presence of God. In Closer to the Burning, Roach writes like a restless poet, burning to tell of his experiences with things unseen. That fact is underscored by his winding, sprawling melodies. From punctuated drones to hook-laden piano lines, the music serves the mood of Roach's devotion. And though he obviously counts himself as a man of faith, there is room in Roach's music to roam--beyond the pale of staid institutions and strict traditionalisms. This, of course, should come as no surprise. Stephen Roach is, after all, the son of wanderers.
- Eric Hurtgen