The Roches’ Maggie and Terre Sing with Tongue in Cheek on ‘Seductive Reasoning’

The Roches’ Maggie and Terre mix corny jokes with sharp revelations on Seductive Reasoning.

Maggie and Terre Roche
Seductive Reasoning
Real Gone Music
24 January 2012 (reissue)

Only hardcore music nerds remember the Roches nowadays. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, these three sisters from New Jersey were fresh and funny, foxy and awkward, and had some very influential friends – Paul Simon, Robert Fripp, Philip Glass, and more. They sang about things both cosmic and personal, they annoyed people with corny jokes then made them cry with sharp revelations. They never really made it big on any kind of commercial level, but their vinyl LPs are still on the shelves of true believers everywhere.

Do yourself a huge favour and learn albums like The Roches and Nurds by heart; if you can’t find them on CD, I hear they have these things for free on the Internet now.

Seductive Reasoning was the first record released by any configuration of Roches. Maggie and Terre were fresh off doing backing vocals on Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973), and Maggie had a whole bunch of songs swirling around her head. This lovely reissue contains her charming (if minimal) notes about where and how the songs were written: New York City, college tours in Pittsburgh, and Baton Rouge.

They come out firing on “Underneath the Moon”, establishing their knack for phrases that no one else could have written but sound as if they’ve been around forever: “Good men want a virgin so don’t you give yourself too soon / ‘Cept in an emergency like underneath the moon.” Another lovely example: “A woman is like a puzzle shackin’ up with the clues / While every piece she get is another piece she lose.” The sisters’ twisting folkie harmonies – Terre’s crystalline soprano soaring above Maggie’s oaky contralto – is undergirded by rollicking barrelhouse piano and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.

Like everything the sisters Roche ever recorded, Seductive Reasoning is hard to categorize. One minute they are unleashing slow pretty ballads like album closer “Jill of All Trades” and “West Virginia”, with its massive string swells and devastating lyrics: “Nineteen / Charleston / Mescaline / He said he was a genius / B-plus average in civil engineering”. But then they whip up on the listener with up-tempo country-blues raves like “Wigglin’ Man” (Terre’s sole co-writing credit) and the amazingly-titled “If You Empty Out All Your Pockets You Could Not Make the Change”. (Producing credit and extra guitar here courtesy of Rhymin’ Simon himself.)

“Burden of Proof”, a stunner located in the midst of what used to be Side Two, is in danger of being overlooked; it’s a hazy crazy thing about leaving the city and going to find a man in the country, and the vocal interplay rings like the sympathetic strings on a sitar. The next one, “The Mountain People”, is the direct antithesis of this: our Jersey-based narratrix gets into college in a rural setting, and absolutely hates it there. And that’s not even to mention “Telephone Bill”, a silly breakup song with a cascade of haunting jokes.

There are no extra tracks, no remixes, just 31 minutes of hot, funny, tragic folk-rock. It’s not quite what they became once they added youngest sister Suzze, but it’s a great thing on its own. Worth it every step of the way.

RATING 7 / 10
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features for publication consideration with PopMatters.
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features.