The Phantom Tollbooth
Chris MacIntosh 8/11/2002
It is rare for any artist to have more than one release out at any given time, to release three albums together is unheard of. But then again Michael Roe has never been your average artist. For years Mike has been putting out material of the highest caliber whether it be with the Scratch Band, the 77's, the Lost Dogs or solo projects. These three albums confirm something that I have known for years, not only is he a great songwriter but young Mr. Roe is a fantastic guitar player and he is in my humble opinion the best male vocalist out there. Let's take a brief look at each of these releases.
Orbis is the second release by the team of Michael Roe & Mark Harmon and is as its forerunner an instrumental project. Mike plays guitar and Mark contributes basses, keyboards, percussion and guitars Anyone who has been to the band's web site already knows the thematic story of Orbis yet that is only the beginning of the tale. The music on this disc owes as much to Wes Montgomery and George Benson as it does to Peter Green and Robert Fripp. There are moments of sheer subtle beauty here such as in the piece entitled "Spaceman 7" and then Mike turns around and blows the roof off of the joint with his playing in "Mars Bars". Mark's contributions to this album cannot be underestimated, he lays the groundwork and foundation from which Mike's stratospheric flights launch. Without a doubt this is one of the finest instrumental guitar albums that I have ever heard. Now all we have to do is get them out on the road with Phil Keaggy and Monk and I'll be a happy camper.
Up next is the newest solo release called Say Your Prayers. This is a solo album in the strictest sense of the word. It is just the man and his guitar and that suits me just fine. Anyone who has seen Mike do a solo coffeehouse type performance over the last few years has a good idea what to expect from this record, can I still use that term. Sure the vocals are layered so that he is doing not only the leads but the backgrounds also, yet this is as Mike says in the sleeve notes, "inspiration in its raw state". This is a collection of promises, poems and prayers, lyrics set to some of the prettiest melodies that this guy has ever written. There is a sense of peace that permeates this collection of songs that just transports you into a place of gentleness and serenity. This is not only a wonderful collection of tunes, it is also filled with the wonder of beautiful music. Doctor Love can fill my prescription anytime.
My wife has always contended that there are two bands calling themselves the 77's. There is the loud raucous bunch of guys who record tunes like "Woody" or "Nobody's Fault But Mine." There is then the other band that puts out stuff like "Don't This Way" or "Nowhere Else". For all intentive purposes this new 77's release called Direct is by that second group, the band that cranks out amazing pop songs that make you want to hear them over and over, again and again. Personally I love both groups but for my monies worth no one can write a good catchy melody as well as Mike Roe. As on the last few releases the band consists of Mike along with Mark Harmon and Bruce Spencer. Let the Rolling Stones boast as much as they want, but when the rubber hits the road the title of the world's greatest rock n roll band goes to the 77's and you can take that to the bank. Mike has said that this album is a new direction for the band. All I can say is where you lead I will follow. Check out their web sites at www.77s.com and www.michaelroe.com
Because we are talking about three albums here I have no choice but to go for 15 tocks