Michael Roe the Boat Ashore Reviews

John J Thompson

Michael Roe, of course the lead vocalist, guitarist, and only surviving original member of The Seventy Sevens, has added a new selection to this summer's must-have list. The glibly titled The Boat Ashore does more than play on the artist's name, it plays on the artist himself.

As the Sevens flex every Zep, Who, and Stones muscle they have, here Roe re-visits his love for more melodic (nose-ring crowd read: mellow), smooth pop music. Fans of the Sevens' more laid-back diversions, like God Sends Quails and MT, will thrill to these 10 cuts. Roe has stretched out over this disc with gobs of heart and soul.

Whereas his debut solo album, Safe as Milk (especially the contraband curdled version), seemed to be a drainage valve for material his label wouldn't let him release on any Sevens record, The Boat Ashore sounds like the sound he has self-censored in order for The Sevens to have every possibility to break into the larger mod-rock scene. All the 70's influences, from the Eagles and America to Neil Young and The Grateful Dead, run free throughout these songs. But never does a song cease sounding exactly like a Michael Roe tune. His voice has never sounded sweeter, his guitar never more fluid, and his ability to pen a killer phrase and set it to a beautiful melody ought never be questioned.

Love Like Gold will leave even the hardest heart spinning: I'm losing interest in your shady loan of love, My only saving grace is the good Lord above, I really want to know what it feels like to have and hold, a precious love, a love like gold. Here he's created one of the most beautiful songs of his career.

Blue All Over and Tum Tum Tum are true examples of Roe's ability with an acoustic guitar. Some Kind of Dream, Billy Paul Said, and I Buried My Heart at Bended Knee all pick up the tempo and throw in some very cool retro groove. Dream actually hints at a slight disco influence in the bass line and backing vocals. Track 77 (why does he keep doing this to us?) is a rollicking, Stones-influenced cut called Tall Trees, which re-treads some of the musical territory he hasn't traveled since the days of More Miserable Than You'll Ever Be. Brown Sugar meets Johnny B. Good.

Lyrically, Roe has carved out some impressive new ground here. The general theme seems to be that, after tossing about on the waves for the last several years, he's hit shore, albeit a bit violently, but at least it's ground. In contrast to dwelling in misery and despair, he has taken control and is doing his best to recover.

No doubt the break-up of Roe's marriage several years ago is the major catalyst behind these songs, but the nature in which he addresses his emotions is encouraging indeed. Take the opening lines of the title track: Woke up in the morning and it felt like the black of night, Tumbled out of bed, tripped on my Bible, stumbled over the light, Blinded by the break of day, I shut my eyes, I was alone, Couldn't say my prayers, Good God Almighty where's my telephone? Now I know, Know what you meant when You told me You wanted to hold me, Hold me forever ... No I did not know, I didn't understand the plan You had for me, It isn't that I don't believe, I do believe that You truly love me, But how do I reciprocate when I know there's nothing good in me? Say it's so ... Say it till I really hear it when you say don't fear it, let go.

Mike Roe's music hasn't contained so full a recognition of God's role in many years. The strange beauty of The Boat Ashore is that it achieves a delicate balance between recognition of pain and the hope of deliverance. There are many symbolisms throughout that a picture of a man who's been through the crashing waves and now welcomes the comfort of crashing onto God's shores. This image of brokenness is powerful indeed.

The Boat Ashore is an excellent offering from a man who has contributed mightily to the overall quality level of Christian music. It relies on melodic and instrumental beauty, and on powerful lyrics to make it's punch - as opposed to Roe's day-job band, The Seventy Sevens, who play the rock and roll card to make an impact. Both extremes are brilliant, and this just goes to show that Michael Roe is fully worth the acclaim he receives.

TLEM 1996
Rob: Mike Roe's ship has definitely come in. Counting his work with the 77's and The Lost Dogs, this makes Roe's third album in the last year, and it's the best of the bunch. The Boat Ashore, for me at least, fulfills the musical promises that were made on his older albums but seemed forgotten on Tom Tom Blues and Safe As Milk. Just when I was starting to wonder if Roe had lost his touch, this album came along to show that he's better than ever.

Beth: Well, Safe As Milk was one of my favorite albums last year, so I wouldn't say that he seemed to have lost his touch. But Tom Tom Blues didn't connect with me, as other 77's albums have in the past. I do agree, however, that The Boat Ashore is the consistently stronger project, both lyrically and musically. Safe As Milk was so diverse that it probably turned a lot of people off. I personally like it when an artist is willing to experiment, but many people prefer a more consistent mood, both in music and lyrics. If that's the case, music lovers everywhere should be all over this project.

Collaborating with 77's drummer Bruce Spencer, Roe has crafted a bunch of moody, melodic tunes that weave an aural spell. While he is no slouch at creating a hard rocking song, pop that is just left-of-center is his true talent, and this album abounds with such pieces.

Rob: This project highlights Roe's guitar skills superbly. There's no other Christian artist, Phil Keaggy included, whom I'd rather hear play electric guitar, and this album shows why on numerous songs. If you liked "Kites Without Strings" or "I Could Laugh," then "Honey Run" and "I Buried My Heart At Bended Knee," among others, will give you ample reason to invest in this album. Lyrics are a major draw for me, and the brutal honesty that characterized older songs like "The Jig Is Up" and "Don't, This Way" is out in full force on this album:
I didn't understand the plan You had for me...

I do believe that You truly love me
But how do I reciprocate
When I know there's nothing good in me?

Beth: Roe's lyrics have always been the biggest drawing card for me. He has a gift for baring his soul in language that illustrates the depth and breadth of human feeling. At the same time, he can infuse some songs with a sharp wit that cuts through the layers of self-righteousness that we as humans are wont to wrap ourselves in--exposing us as the pathetically funny creatures we are when we drift too far from God.

There's less of that wit displayed on this project (except for the "hidden" track, "Tall Trees"), but the soul-baring is still evident, as you pointed out. In "I Buried My Heart At Bended Knee," Roe faces the fear that some people carry around deep inside--the fear that somehow, somewhere, we will cross a line with God from which there is no return:

How many times in the burning heat,
If I go down in flames will you rescue me?
If I turn back to you on bended knee will you unlock my cage?
Will you set me free?
Set me free...
Rob: If I was trying to introduce someone to the music of Mike Roe this time last year, it would have been a toss-up between giving them Sticks And Stones and Drowning With Land In Sight. This year, there's no question--The Boat Ashore is the highlight of an impressive career. This album will go the distance instrumentally, musically, and lyrically.

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