Survivor: Portland

Jake Roche returns with a solo debut
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  January 31, 2007

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Jake Roche
When Jeremiah Freed decided in early 2005 to depart Portland for the sunny climes and cutthroat industry of Los Angeles, guitarist Jake Roche didn’t make the trip. He had already left the band, not long after the 2003 release of Slowburn, which was among the state’s best-selling discs for more than a year.

Those who appreciate irony may want to check out Roche’s CD-release show at the Big Easy, February 10.

Freed drummer Kerry Ryan will be behind the kit as the former rhythm man takes center stage behind a slate of his own material. In fact, Freed frontman Joe Smith is the only member of the band remaining in LA. Bassist Matt Cosby is backing Pete Kilpatrick now, and former Kilpatrick bassman Hutch Heelan is playing bass for Roche. Roche is even hoping to rope in JF lead guitarist Nick Goodale for a show or two, getting him to take a break from building his own recording studio.

But let’s not get too bogged down in history. Roche’s Just Survivin’ is the latest in a string of debuts from new solo artists over the last six months breaking into the Portland scene (see: Roy Davis, Katrina Abramo, Zach Romanoff, Moses Atwood, Samuel James, Steven Williams), many of them taking advantage of our city’s talented recording engineers and studio musicians. Hey, as Cisco’s commercial keeps jamming down my throat, we live in a world where anybody can be famous, but I can’t help wondering if many or all of them wouldn’t benefit from fronting or merely being part of a working band.

With Roche, discussions on this point should start and end with his voice. On his album, he shows himself to be an adequate (and sometimes very good) songwriter and guitar player, but his vocals have to be called an acquired taste, and one I’m not sure I’ve yet acquired, after five listens. I’ll admit that I was fairly taken aback on the first go-round. I wrote, “like a cross between Tiny Tim and mid-’80s Bob Dylan,” in my notes, and that’ll do for now. It’s very nasal, sometimes raspy, and displays small range. That kind of thing can work in an indie setting, as with the Hidden Cameras’ Joel Gibb, maybe (though he’s more from the Ian Anderson school of vocals), but Roche doesn’t seem to have the cynical bent to make it work. Largely, he’s earnest and romantic, and needs to deliver something more polished, something with more gravitas.

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JUST SURVIN': Just how country is it?

Were there a natural singer delivering Roche’s lyrics this album would be immeasurably better.

That might just be me, though. There’s no denying that Roche already has a fanbase, enough that he’s able to play as his profession, and a number of local industry types have lauded his disc. So let’s move on.

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