a Christian talent goes solo

Safe As Milk (VIA Records)
Michael Roe

By Robert Gruber

"Talent borrows; genius steals."Friedrich Nietzsche.

That quote, along with three others regarding stealing (including a well-known commandment) grace the inside cover of Safe As Milk, the first "official" solo release from 77s frontman Mike Roe. Apparently, Roe feels he has to answer up about some of the more obvious influences on this disc.

Or maybe not. Having never been short on either talent or genius, Mike Roe has taken a little of this, a little of that, mixed it with his own strange mojo and produced a shiny, smooth gem of a solo debut — with just enough quirks and flaws to make it unique. Fans of a more rockin' Roe may have to sit this one out, but those who enjoyed the more mellow stuff on the last two 77s releases (Pray Naked and Drowning With Land In Sight) will be well pleased.

In some ways, Safe As Milk picks up where Pray Naked (aka The Seventy Sevens) left off. A little snippet of a song on that record, "Smiley Smile" returns here as "Smile," a full-length Brian Wilson tribute that encapsulates the joy and charm of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys.

Downplaying the pyrotechnics of past efforts, Roe's guitar work on Safe As Milk is tasteful and sublime, as in the torchy "You Leave Me Homeless" and the atmospheric "Ache Beautiful." At times choirboy sweet and angelic, other times dusky and bluesy, Roe's singing wrings every ounce of irony and emotion out of his lyrics, as in "Hold Dearly to Me" and "I Want Never Gets," a sad, stinging lament to faded romance and needs unmet.

Two songs, "When Jesu Comes" and "I Need God," give this disc a more overt spiritual tone than more recent 77s. "I Need God" is a powerful dose of straight gospel, beautifully arranged on piano. "When Jesu Comes" reaches tenderly for the heart of every believer:. "I cannot wait 'til Jesu Comes. and when he comes, I'll come undone, I cannot wait to come undone."

Mike Roe approaches his music and his faith with a candor and an honesty that might give pause to Christians more attuned to a cookie-cutter CCM mindset. Some of us could learn from his openness. Indeed, if Mike Roe considers himself a thief with this record, then it's certainly of the Robin Hood variety — stealing from a rich musical heritage to give to us poor, slobbering beggars a glimpse of unvarnished hope in Christ.

Or maybe not.