A. J. Roach
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A. J. Roach

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


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"AJ's Newest Album, 'Revelation' tops the Euro-Americana Chart"

A. J. Roach's newest record, 'Revelation', has reached the number one spot atop the Euro-Americana Chart for the month of December. The record (still unreleased in the US) has reached number 5 on the Freeform American Roots Chart, and number 7 on the Americana & Roots Top 13 (based on airplay and record sales). Thank you to all those DJs, retailers, journalists and promoters who are enjoying the record enough to pass the word along about it. 'Revelation' will be released in the US in autumn of 2007. - December 07, 2006 - For Immediate Release

"Paste Magazine - 4 to Watch"

Raising The Roof
Writer: Kate Kiefer
4 To Watch For, Issue 37, Published online on 26 Oct 2007

Hometown: San Francisco
Fun fact: Roach’s backup career plan is to become a seal trainer.
Why he's worth watching: Since 2003, Roach has traveled over half-a-million miles and played nearly 1,000 shows in a dozen countries. That’s dedication.
For fans of: Gillian Welch, Ryan Adams, Dwight Yoakam

“When my father built our house, we had a roof-raising party,” recalls San Francisco-based folksinger A.J. Roach. “Friends and family came from all over the county, and even a few from the neighboring state came to help. We literally raised each rafter up to the top of the house and nailed it in place. And then we had a huge fish fry.”

Roach grew up in Scott County, Va.—the heart of Appalachia—once home to country-music royalty (the Carter family) and bluegrass legends (the Stanley Brothers). Given the region’s geographical isolation from the rest of the country, Appalachia has preserved much of its culture through oral tradition and mountain music. Everyday acts for common people—fishing, praying, drinking, mining coal from the earth—have become the stuff of classic songs, from which Roach takes his cues.

Thanks in large part to the Coen Brothers’ 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, traditional American music has developed a hip cachet in the new millennium—but Roach isn’t in it because it’s trendy. A bona fide highlander, he can sing about gunnysacks, Mason jars and Sears & Roebuck without coming off as disingenuous. (After all, where he comes from, they carried Mason jars around in gunnysacks. And people actually shopped at Sears.)

Roach’s songwriting perspective isn’t completely sepia-toned, though. He steeps his music in rich mountain traditions, and then weaves modern imagery and instrumentation throughout. From spry-sounding suicide ballad “Clinch River Blues” and desperate lament “Streets of Omaha” to the gospel-influenced, anti-war title track, Revelation is an endearing anthology of life stories, colored with hearty, twangy vocals, plenty of strings and that unmistakable bluegrass spontaneity. “The experience taught me that there’s no such thing as a perfect record,” Roach says, “and that pursuing perfection will, in all likelihood, cost you some level of magic that you can get from a completely raw performance.”

While others succumb to the pursuit of perfection, Roach makes music that’s hard-earned and sturdy, then lifts it to the sky like a handmade rooftop.
- Paste Magazine

"A.J. Roach, why d'ya gotta look so young and sound so wise?"

Writer: Todd Lavoie

I suppose it all stems from my childhood fascination with Yoda, but older-than-the-hills voices seem to sucker me in without fail. It's especially intriguing when those sounds come from folks whose faces look far too young to creak out such ancient wisdom, such heaving doses of world-weariness.

Sure, I've tended to hang on every word during listens of late-period releases from elder statesmen like Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen, but I love the head-scratching incongruity of silver-haired croaks and warbles drifting forth from the pipes of youngish guys and gals. Singers like Will Oldham, Vic Chesnutt, David Eugene Edwards (16 Horsepower/Woven Hand) - how do they do it? Here I am, knee-deep and beyond into my 30s, and yet I still seem to carry as much bass in my register as a 16-year-old girl. Sagely advice, from these lips? Don't count on it, love. This little voice of mine carries about as much gravitas as it did in high school. Needless to say, I stay clear of any serious oratory action.

And yet there goes Oldham, a.k.a., Bonnie Prince Bill, carrying the weight of the world atop that stiff upper lip, sounding old enough to regale us with tales of what it was like in the days before dirt. Oh, did I mention he was born in 1970?! Wow, what a fossil. Chesnutt and Edwards - same deal. Both are only around 40 years of age, but their voices have always inhabited the earth, if their records are any indication.

Looking for another name to add to the list? Then a trek down to Amnesia this coming Monday, Oct. 22, is in order, friends: local singer-songwriter A.J. Roach will be throwing a record-release party to celebrate the arrival of his latest collection of mountain music missives, Revelation (Waterbug). Trust me, the disc's a stunner - I've nearly memorized the damn thing already, I've played it so much! If you too find yourself giddily a-fluster at the thought of bourbon-soaked backwoods folk with the jagged edges left firmly in place, then Monday's hootenanny ain't one to be missed. Oh, and did I mention that admission is free?

Roach deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Oldham, Edwards, and Chesnutt (hmm, sound like a law firm to you too?), not only due to curious vocal similarities but also thanks to a similar musical spirit. Raised deep in the mountains of Appalachian Virginia, Roach clearly must have received a thorough education in the region's folk traditions, as Revelation displays a deep reverence for the music of his spiritual ancestors. That being said, the man didn't grow up in a time-capsule, and so just like the aforementioned artists, he brings an indie-rock-informed attitude and sensibility to the music. Put it this way: if you slid a couple of Roach tracks into a mix composed of Uncle Tupelo, Bonnie Prince Billy, Chesnutt, 16 Horsepower, and maybe a little Mekons and the Sadies, you'd have yourself one hell of a post-folk/country playlist. (Speaking of which: looks like I've got myself a project for later.)

There's plenty to be said about Roach's wordsmithery and storytelling know-how - "evocative" only begins to do justice to Revelations' lyrical powers - but the first thing you're bound to notice is his bewilderingly flexible voice. At times, he brandishes a fiery, pulpit-ready holler, giving roll-call as the End Times thunder closer. In other moments, he's a lonely old grumbler, staring straight-ahead at the looming specter of death. In between the two extremes, Roach comes across as a downtrodden grandpappy who remains as scrappy as ever, refusing to give in to a world that seems so intent on keeping him down.

Next comes the cognitive dissonance: when you see the guy's face. As much as he makes a rather convincing old-timer, he's obviously still a young 'un. Take a quick gander at the lyrics, though, and you'd never guess it. The disc often feels as if it was written by someone twice his age. And yes, I mean that as a compliment. It's no small feat, being able to write - and sing! - from the perspective of someone from another generation without coming across as trite or sentimental or, worse yet, insulting. Roach knows what he's doing, and he does it remarkably well.

I love the album's odd but effective intersections of pre-industrial themes with modern settings: Revelations is loaded with Biblical references and archaic language straight out of a time when Roach's native Virginia had barely achieved statehood, and yet mixed amongst the sepia-toned portraiture are references to cocaine and interstate highways and truck drivers and, best of all (on the snappy "Devil May Dance"), "the losers on 16th and South Van Ness." (What San Franciscan doesn't love a good shout-out to the 415?) It's a world where folks still say things like "maketh" and still carry around gunnysacks, despite all the concrete and asphalt underfoot. My current fave, the gorgeous Vic Chesnutt-like ballad "Fashionistas," manages to sound simultaneously like a biting putdown of hipsters and a warm-hearted reminiscence. Truth be told, I'm still a bit unsure of what it's about, but I'll be damned if it doesn't put me in a strangely sentimental mood. Here's a video of the A.J. Roach Trio turning in a stirring performance of the song, recorded a few months ago in Belgium:

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If all of that use of such a decidedly postmodern word as "fashionista" left you feeling a little too firmly planted in the 21st century, then this antidote should do you nicely: "Chemicals" is a fascinating mix of Biblical language and the odd anachronistic drug reference. If Cold Mountain included a harrowing detox sequence, this song could've made the soundtrack:

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Intrigued? A.J. Roach and His Strange Pilgrims ring in the arrival of Revelations with a CD release party: Monday, Oct. 22, 8 p.m., at Amnesia, 853 Valencia, SF. Free admission, y'all.
- San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Paste Magazine - 'Revelation' Review"

Writer: Andy Whitman

Folksinger A.J. Roach may call San Francisco home, but he’s got the mountains and hollers of his native southwestern Virginia deep in his veins. It turns out he may have other things in his veins as well. And when you put that together, you end up with one hell of an Appalachian confessional album, called Revelation, replete with biblical imagery and harrowing addiction stories set to gentle banjo, mandolin and fiddle accompaniment.

“Revelation” is right. The power of this album lies in the juxtaposition of the traditional mountain gospel accompaniment and iconography with the tales from the gutter. Consider Roach’s alternate take on Psalm 23:

Whiskey is my shepherd; I shall not want
It maketh me lie down in a strange woman’s bed
It maketh me talk out of both sides of my mouth
It maketh me feel like I’d be better off dead

And there’s plenty more moonshine salvation where that came from. As is fitting for someone who hails from the same county that gave us The Carter Family and The Stanley Brothers, Roach has got it, but you just have to hear it to understand. Critics have given it a label, and called it the high lonesome sound, but that doesn’t do it justice. It’s a gentle Scottish burr transplanted to the new world, encountering backwoods ghosts and night terrors, and emerging as something haunted and haunting. And Roach has it in spectral spades. He employs it on tales of sleeping in a freezing car, coming down from cheap cocaine, of walking bleary-eyed through the streets of Omaha. Revelation is a simultaneously grim and lovely album, full of sharp, vivid writing and soulful singing. It’s the southern gothic gospel of the halfway house and the homeless shelter, and it’s one of the best albums of the year. - Paste Magazine

"American Songwriter - 'Revelation' Review"

Writer: David Mead

Honestly, I am not initially inclined to feel much affection for A.J. Roach’s Revelation (Waterbug); a weighty title, depictions of skeletons on the cover, Appalachian vibrato, etc... But one listening quickly demolishes my flimsy pretenses like so many faulty bricks in an earthquake. You can’t fake this shit: Roach’s incisive character studies and conversational melodies are the stuff of history being made, however beautiful and flawed. His is one of those voices that doesn’t just pop up from behind a can of PBR, not even one that fades after a brief profile on NPR, but a timeless application of history to the present; haunting, crippled and, most of all, real. - American Songwriter

"A. J. Roach"

"A.J. is a true poet."
- Tom T. Hall

“There is a kind of rustic-ness to [Dogwood Winter] which is fantastically appealing. I think he’s terrific.”
- Bob Harris, BBC 2

"Not counting me, A. J. Roach is the best songwriter I ever heard."
- Washboard Williams

"There's a sad beauty, a bittersweet melancholy that runs through the songs [on Dogwood Winter], as pure and welcome as an Appalachian spring.”
- Paste Magazine

"Roach is a deep woods troubadour with a cunning wit and a southern gothic spiritualism that sounds older than voodoo. His music is parochial and far flung at the same time, witchy and unabashedly romantic ... He's a shitkicker poet with voice that crackles, pierces, smokes and then smoothes it all over with a shared shot of hope.”
- Terry Sawyer, Pop Matters

“A J Roach’s strong and distinctive voice embodie[s] that archetypal ‘high lonesome sound,’ and the songs sound both traditional and timeless at the same time.”
- Gerry Evans, Maverick Magazine, UK

“Roach took the audience packed into the estimable Fallen Angels club, on a backwoods travelogue that was virtually a masterclass in illustrating how much sophistication goes into creating so-called primitive music.”
- Rob Adams, The Glasgow Herald

“It can still happen – a song on the radio makes all the other tunes sound formulaic and lame. It recently happened when Bob Harris played Granddaddy by AJ Roach. The beautiful clear sound of Roach’s voice, the simple backing and the sincerity of the sentiment add up to the best song about an Appalachian childhood ever written.”
- Mike Butler, London Metro

[AJ’s] “voice is strident and hauntingly powerful, with a strong vibrato, always on the edge of breaking into a yodel, and is convincing evidence that Roach is the real deal, in contrast to those neo-Oh Brother Where Art Thou pretenders who cover their middle-class origins in 'yee-haw' pastiche.”
- Andrew Hawkey, Cambria Arts

Even at this tender age, Roach blesses his songs with a voice that has life's bitter experiences casting shadows over it. This is music at its purest, there is no hint of pretence or barrier.
- Michael Mee, NetRhythms UK

“AJ Roach and Gillian Welch have lots in common. They’ve both won the songwriting competition at Merlefest in Carolina and, like Welch, Roach is making his first Scottish appearances in modest surroundings. Yet there’s one big difference – their backgrounds. Welch’s was big-city comfortable. Roach’s was dirt poor and rural, which adds to the authenticity of his story-songs from the Virginia hills.”
- Glasgow Herald

“[Roach’s] moonshine grumble and spooky backwoods lyricism harkens back to a world so remote and gorgeous that he makes Iron and Wine sound like a soundtrack for subdivision construction.”
- Hybrid Music Magazine
- Quote Sheet

"AJ's New Album, 'Revelation' enters the Euro-Americana and Freeform American Radio Charts"

'Revelation' has entered the Euro-Americana Chart at number 16, and the Freeform American Roots Chart at number 25 for the month of November! Thank you to all those DJs, retailers, journalists and promoters who are enjoying the record enough to pass the word along on it. 'Revelation' will be released in the US in autumn of 2007. - November 07, 2006 - For Immediate Release

"'Revelation' reviewed by John Davy - 9 of 10 stars"

First time round, with "Dogwood Winter", I didn't really get AJ.'s thing; it was all a bit low-key and introspective for my taste. Well, now I can make up for lost time because "Revelation" has grabbed my attention in a big way. This man grew up with Appalachian folk and gospel music all around him, but flirted with rock and relocated to California before rediscovering his roots and started producing his own music springing directly from those roots."Revelation" opens with "Clinch River Blues", a suicide song in the fine tradition of all those old murder ballads, delivered with a pace and intensity that grips you tight, and you think to yourself that this guy means business. The guy in the song takes the notion of washing away your sins in the river to an extreme length and the religious imagery returns throughout the album, as does the self-loathing; the song "Chemicals" celebrates the healing power of whisky as it riffs on "The Lord Is My Shepherd":

"So whiskey's my shepherd/Oh and I shall not want/It maketh me lay down/ In a strange woman's bed/ It maketh me talk/ Out of both sides of my mouth/ Maketh me feel/ Like I'd be better off dead".

Whereas Dog wood Winter's songs tended to meld together with the similarity of their arrangements, here AJ's assembled some pals to colour in the background, and multitracked his vocals to give some depth to the performance. The big surprise is "Devil May Dance" which owes it's sound far more to Crosby Stills and Nash than to Appalachia, and is quite sumptious. Otherwise AJ's gift to us is to bring us elements of that mountain gospel music and the famed "high lonesome sound" without ever getting po-facedly "authentic" about it;
for a tradition to live and breathe it needs writers and performers who are prepared to innovate from within the tradition.

The most impressive thing with this collection of songs is the immense care taken over the writing; he uses pretty strict rhyming schemes with his lyrics but the rhymes never seem to obstruct the flow of his story, but rather give it a rhythm that he emphasises with his singing.

The words play tag with each other, too; a word will be re-used in a new context in successive phrases so that the listener's brain has got the rhythm of the rhyme as well as the rhythm of the repeated word to engage with. Clever, well-worked stuff that rewards close attention and many hearings.

"Revelation" is the closing song, and is a storming sermon on the subject of the day of judgement, when "every man is judged/ by what he's really worth". You don't have to share the creed to be impressed by the ferocity of the message, with the whole band going full tilt. Fantastic stuff, and well worth the three year wait. AJ's playing around Britain this October and November with Nels Andrews; can't wait, myself. - www.WhisperinAndHollerin.com


Appalachia EP (2001)
Dogwood Winter (2003)
Live EP (2005)
Revelation (2006 Europe, 2007 US)
Pleistocene (February, 2011)
Splitsville (October, 2011)



June, 2010
A. J. plans to finish the recording for his 3rd full-length album in July, 2010. The album entitled 'Pleistocene' is slated for a February, 2011 release in both the United States and Europe.

April, 2010
A. J. has announced a tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands for July and August of 2010. He'll be traveling and performing with his good friends Ian Thomas Parks and Nels Andrews. The three will be playing a few festivals and several concerts in remote and rural parts of Scotland. The complete schedule will be announced soon, so check the website for more details

November, 2009
A. J. has been selected as one of two American songwriters to represent the International Folk Alliance at the Burnsong Songwriting Residency in Dumfries and Gallowy, Scotland. He will be taking part in a week-long songwriters' retreat capped off by a concert for MSPs in the Scottish Parliament Building.

September, 2009
The television show, One Tree Hill has decided to put A. J.'s song, 'Devil May Dance' into this season's premiere episode! It's really nice of the folks over at 'One Tree Hill' to use the song in their show, and extra nice of them to put it in the first scene of the new season's premiere. So make sure to tune in on Monday, September 14th at 8pm on The CW Network.

June, 2009
AJ has been selected for a Falcon Ridge / Grassy Hill Emerging Artist Showcase at this year's Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in Hillsdale, NY. It's quite an honor and we're very excited for AJ to make his Falcon Ridge debut!

December, 2008
We are pleased to announce that AJ has been invited back to Memphis, TN to perform at the 2009 International Folk Alliance Conference. As we receive more details regarding his official performance, we'll be sure to let you know.

August, 2008
Just back from the UK, A. J. & His Strange Pilgrims will be performing at the Carter Family Memorial Festival in Hiltons, VA

July, 2008
A. J. & His Strange Pilgrims are on their way to the UK to perform 2 weeks of festival and club dates in Scotland, England and Wales.

June, 2008
A. J. is currently doing a swing through the Southeastern United States including a performance at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Kerrville, TX

April, 2008
A. J. & His Strange Pilgrims are on their way to Holland to perform 3 weeks of dates including a headlining slot in the Blue Highways Festival.

November, 2007
AJ is featured as one of Paste Magazine's '4 to Watch' in this month's issue of the popular music magazine. One of the tracks from the new Waterbug Records release, 'Revelation' is also featured on the CD sampler included with this month's edition of Paste.

November, 2007
AJ's song, 'Devil May Dance', (track 2 from the much-anticipated new Waterbug Records release, 'Revelation') will be featured as a part of American Airlines' in-flight entertainment for the month of December.

October, 2007
'The Music of Coal: Songs from the Appalachian Coalfields', the special 2-disc set featuring a studio recording of AJ's song, 'Black Lung' has been nominated for three Grammy Awards!

July, 2007
AJ and band have just returned from a 33 date tour of Holland, Belgium, France and the UK. Touring behind the European release of their chart-topping record, 'Revelation', the band played to sold out crowds in venues ranging from large modern theaters to ancient wine cellars. 'Revelation' is slated for a US release on Waterbug Records in October, 2007. See an interview (with performance clips) for Dutch television at the following URL:


May, 2007
A recording of AJ's song, 'Black Lung' will be featured on a double disc various artists release entitled 'Music of Coal: Songs from the Appalachian Coalfields'. Black Lung was recorded in December of 2005 at Maggard Studios in Big Stone Gap, Virgina and features Shawn Lane (Blue Highway) on mandolin and Ron Short on fiddle.

The 2-disc set, to be released in late May, will be packaged with a 72 page booklet and will feature songs by The Carter Family, Dock Boggs, Merle Travis, Carter Stanley, Tom T. Hall, Hazel Dickens, Dwight Yoakam, Darrell Scott, Blue Highway, Robin & Linda Williams, Ron Short, Dale Jett, Natalie Merchant and many others.

January, 2007
AJ's New Record, 'Revelation' has reached number 1 on the Euro-Americana Chart, number 5 on the Freeform American Roots (FAR) Chart, and number 8 on the Americana & Roots Top 13 (based on airplay and sales) for the last month of 2006!

In August of 2003, AJ Roach released his debut full-length album, 'Dogwood Winter' on his own New Folkstar Records label. The response to 'Dogwood Winter' over the next three years – from hardened critics and music lovers alike – would be overwhelming. The record would prompt eminent songwriter, Tom T. Hall to declare AJ “a true poet”, and to cite one of the songs on ‘Dogwood Winter’ (Hard Bein’ Right) as his “new theme song”.