Roches’ mother-daughter harmonies to fill Shank Hall

Bill Lamb, Contributing writer

To their many fans, the surnames Roche and Wainwright imply musical royalty. Their intertwined family tree has created two generations of accomplished folk musicians connected by blood and marriage.

Two key members of the family join together in concert on Nov. 19 at Milwaukee’s Shank Hall. Suzzy Roche and her daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche are appearing to support their joint 2013 album Fairytale and Myth

Suzzy (rhymes with “fuzzy”) Roche is the youngest of the sister trio The Roches. After the release of the group’s self-titled 1979 album, The Roches were invited by Paul Simon to perform on Saturday Night Live, giving the group national exposure. But despite glowing critical reviews and the support of such acclaimed musicians as Robert Fripp, The Roches never achieved a major commercial breakthrough. One of their most enduring recordings is the 1990 Christmas collection We Three Kings.

In 1997, with The Roches on hiatus, Suzzy Roche released her first solo album Holy Smokes, and followed it with the outstanding Songs From an Unmarried Housewife and Mother, Greenwich Village, USA in 2000. In addition to featuring guest vocals by Lucy Wainwright Roche, Suzzy Roche included her daughter’s father, ex-husband Loudon Wainwright III. He and folk singer Kate McGarrigle are the parents of musicians Rufus and Martha Wainwright.

Lucy Wainwright Roche initially rejected the family career path and became an elementary school teacher. She once told NPR, “I had no interest in being a musician, because I was surrounded by them. It seemed like a terrible plan.”

In 2005, however, she joined half-brother Rufus Wainwright on tour as a backup vocalist. By 2007, she’d released a collection of eight songs, and her debut full-length album Lucy appeared in 2010.

In addition to her 2013 album There’s a Last Time For Everything, Lucy Wainwright Roche has sung backup with Neko Case and toured with Amos Lee. She’s drawn comparisons to artists like Joni Mitchell.

Despite their penchant for singing about family strife, the Roche and Wainwright families’ albums and concert tours are often family affairs. Fairytale and Myth is no different.

“I spent some of the warmest hours of my life making this album. It was one of the most magical musical moments of my life,” Suzzy Roche says of working with her daughter.

The close vocal harmonies between mother and daughter will be familiar to anyone who’s followed The Roches through the years. The subject matter of the album’s songs includes the numerous ways in which people generate myths out of reality. Tracks on the album include a touching cover of the Beatles’ “For No One”; “Lily,” a song inspired by Edith Wharton’s classic novel House of Mirth and its lead character Lily Bart; and long-time family-concert favorite “When I’m at Your House,” featuring Loudon Wainwright III on guest vocals.

The closing song, “When a Heart Breaks Down,” perhaps best encapsulates the spirit of the album. It celebrates those who come to your rescue in dark times; the song ends with the advice, “Return that love with a newfound heart.”

Lucy Wainwright Roche has described touring with her mother as comfortable — reminiscent of the time she spent with her mother on the road with The Roches as a child. The tour gives her the opportunity to sing songs featuring vocal harmonies, which is obviously not possible as a solo artist.

Both daughter and mother are known for the rapport that they develop with audiences in concert appearances. Suzzy Wainwright Roche often tells quirky stories and makes wry commentary on everyday life, while her daughter exhibits a quiet but moving sense of humor.

The Nov. 19 show at Shank Hall is guaranteed to be memorable. Whether you are a fan from The Roche’s first album release in 1979, a long-term follower of the Wainwright family, or simply looking for some of the finest, intimate, live folk-pop music available, this is a not-to-miss show. 

On stage

Suzzy Roche and her daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche appear at Milwaukee’s Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell Ave., on Nov. 19. For showtimes and ticket information, visit shankhall.com or phone 414-276-7288.