Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 4 Reviews

AJ Roach
Saturday, Oct 2, 11:30am
Rooster Stage
Reviews by Dan Olmsted

AJ's voice never fails to reach right inside and grab me, down to the core. He sings with a strong and pure conviction, simple and honest. He manages to be mournful and exhilherated all at once. And the songs, too, seem to reflect that same mixture--of life's sorrows, and the strength we find to overcome them.

The West Virginia roots of AJ Roach's music are rendered in a unique, inventive way by this trio, which features AJ on flattop guitar, Mia Thompson adding her stylish vocal harmonies, and Melissa Rose flanking him on the fiddle. They really hit a sweet spot whenever that violin weaves right into Melissa and AJ's vocal harmonies, to the point where you almost can't distinguish singing and playing. But Melissa is always ready too, when a chance arrives to step out with a solo or some kind of instrumental interlude. "Clincher River Blues" starts with an angular guitar strum, and when his bandmates kick in, you get the full effect of the power this simple trio can bring.

He hails from the Appalacian mountain country. Black Lung disaese has visited AJ's family; his grandfather mined coal, "until my lungs are as black as the soles of my shoes..." In fact his family is never far from AJ's musical life. Introducing "You Can't Know When" he informs us that his mom would needle him a little: "Anthony, why can't you write more gospel songs?" So he wrote a tune, where "God carries a rifle."

AJ brings a relaxed and friendly demeanor to the stage, inviting us all in, warming us up with tunes like '"Sour Mash." or "Crystal Morph." But mostly his songs are soulful, simple and often poignent reminders of the unfairness that visits the lives of everyday folk. They carry strong political convictions without needing to voice them out loud. It's the power of music in its very best sense.

Since he makes his home in the Bay Area now, there are chances to catch AJ Roach's trio around here. And the CD, "Dogwood Winter," is not to be missed.

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