Looking For Butter Boy

Archie Roach

Hightone Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


One of the difficult pleasures I encounter constantly with this job is picking up an album expecting to hear one style, only to discover an entirely different genre. Most of the time this is a delight for me, allowing me to explore an entirely new avenue of music - but it makes writing the review incredibly difficult.

Case in point: Australian folk musician Archie Roach. His American record label is noted for its blues artists, but his third release Looking For Butter Boy is nowhere near this genre. Instead, his blend of rock, outback folk and painfully personal stories is a style all its own.

At times, Roach and his band sound like Australia's answer to John Hiatt, but Hiatt never wrote songs as seriously deep as these. In the course of fifty-some minutes, Roach tackles such difficult subjects as poverty, prejudice, spirituality, the loss of a parent and realizing one's own shortcomings, all without losing his own persona or the listener's interest. And though a few efforts fall short, this is, by far, a solid effort that should make a name for Roach on these shores.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

When Roach plays the folk-pop artist, he creates a magical groove that captures you within moments. "My Grandmother" is a prime example of this, interweaving the guitar work of Roach and Dave Steel with Kerry Gilmartin's bass work and percussion provided by Archie Cuthbertson (as well as the vocals of Roach's wife Ruby Hunter) into a tightly-knit rhythm. "Beggar Man" also captures a similar, though slightly weaker, groove - and almost lost in the tribal beat is the serious message of poverty and how we treat the downtrodden.

For each message of celebration on Looking For Butter Boy is also a message of pain. The album itself was a journey of rediscovery for Roach, who recorded the album near the area where he grew up. (The album's title is based on a childhood nickname Roach had.) "F Troop," one of the most beautiful songs on this album, shows Roach reminiscing about his brother from their reunion to his brother's death. Another poignant moment follows on "Mother's Heartbeat," a song that I defy anyone to say they're not moved by in some way.

For a few tracks, it seems that Roach is telling the story of his life - and reliving a childhood of pain. "My Grandmother" seems to start it off, leading to "F Troop" and "Mother's Heartbeat," which ends with Roach being sent elsewhere to live after his mother's death. In "Djabugai Lady," it seems like Roach discovers someone he can confide his pain to in his new home, and forms a true bond with them.

But Roach also wishes to celebrate the human existence, as he does on "Dancing (With My Spirit)", "Hold On Tight" and "Give Unto Caesar". No matter the message in the lyrics, Roach conveys the true feelings of the human condition - and though this is a deep listen that will take a few plays on the old CD player, it's worth the effort to understand.

Roach has been growing in popularity and status with each album he releases. Looking For Butter Boy should be the one to break him into the big time - that is, if all things were fair in this industry. This one is worth the search - but expect to be changed in some way after you get the message of this album.

Rating: A-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hightone Records, and is used for informational purposes only.