Roachford, Word of Mouth (Peppermint Jam, 2006)

Twenty years ago, English singer/songwriter/keyboardist Andrew Roachford and his band Roachford nearly changed the world. Well, the idea of combining funk and soul with aggressive hard rock was certainly a good one, and the band executed the idea flawlessly on their self-titled debut album. There was a slight obstacle in their way, though, in the form of formatted radio. The classic opening single "Cuddly Toy (Feel for Me)" turned a few heads (like mine) when the video made MTV, but it was too black for rock radio to pick it up and too rock to crack black radio. Despite favorable press and healthy sales in Europe, Roachford disappeared quickly in the United States. The buzz the band had generated wasn't even enough to get the band's second album Get Ready released in this country. The third album Permanent Shade of Blue did get a release here, but was packaged with a live EP for the price of two compact discs. So only the handful of people who remembered Roachford and still cared enough to fork over $30 for one album of new material heard the album. I suppose this was better than not getting the record released here at all, but it certainly didn't result in a whole lot of chart action. And that was the last time Roachford sold any new music in the United States.

The 1998 album Feel remains Roachford's strongest to date, but the band had begun to disintegrate. While it was always kind of blurry, the distinction between Andrew Roachford the singer and Roachford the musical entity more or less vanished at this point. Feel also marked a change in Roachford's musical direction. While containing the definitive Roachford rocker in "How Could I? (Insecurity)," the album also featured some ballads and an increased reliance on acoustic guitars. After a 2000 compilation The Roachford Files tied up the remaining loose ends, Andrew Roachford returned in 2003 with a scaled-back solo album called Heart of the Matter Vol. 1. Featuring sparse arrangements consisting almost exclusively of Roachford's vocals and keyboards plus a drum machine, this album veered strongly in the direction of contemporary R&B.

I periodically check Roachford's website to find out if something new is going on, and that's how I found out about Word of Mouth. Roachford has brought back the full band sound with a new core of backing musicians. Stylistically, there is a little bit of everything on Word of Mouth, from rock to pop to ballads to hard funk to disco to classic soul. Roachford channels influences as diverse as Marvin Gaye and George Michael, and continues his pattern of taking ideas from many sources and creating something distinct out of it. It may be tough for a given listener to like every track as a result, but Roachford can still be very, very good when he wants to be. "It's Alright" will definitely please fans of the early Roachford sound. The gospel-tinged "Tomorrow" is first-rate soul. "Work It Out" is an impassioned plea for harmony. "Pop Muzak," a collaboration with Turkish-German DJ/producer Mousse T., has a catchy chorus that compels the listener to sing along. The essential funk of "Shake It!" pretty much speaks for itself.

Andrew Roachford has been a lot of things over the course of his career, but he's never been dull. Circumstances have made it difficult to keep up with him -- hell, it would have been impossible without the Internet -- but Word of Mouth proves that he's still worth following twenty years after he first came to my attention.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

No comments: