Friday, June 24, 2011

CD Review; THE SWIGS: "Johnson Family Values" (Sapient Records)

The Swigs' new CD "Johnson Family Values"
I really am enjoying listening to the new album by Tucson's The Swigs, called "Johnson Family Values".  The focus of this album is really on creating a certain '70's-era band sound, with lots of lead guitar noodling (with a variety of effects pedals), combined with virtuoso musicianship. But it also goes beyond those initial models, by doing remakes of classic songs by Bowe, the Bee Gees, and the Rolling Stones, that (in my opinion) surpass the originals.

The eight songs are evenly divided between covers and originals. It's really nice to hear solid musicianship, and it's nice to hear such loving tribute given to the hard rock bands of the '70's.  Listening to this album, I'm hearing shades of some of my favorite ball-yankin' rock n' roll bands, such as Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy -- but it's done with respect. There was a time when whenever anyone quoted a '70's-era hard rock band, it was for comedic effect. The Swigs play straight-ahead 70's-inspired rock n' roll, without irony, and it sounds great.

The first track, an original tune called "Transmissions",  starts out with a punk sound ala The Saints or Thin Lizzie, and then goes into a musical jam that contains a keyboard riff that sounds right out of Deep Purple, Hammond organ and all. This is followed by a cover of David Bowie's "Let Me Sleep Beside You", although the Swigs turn Bowie's 1967-era bubbly pop song into a psychedelic distortion-filled rocker, sounding a little like Free.

Next is another original tune, "Raw Little Animal", which has a funky ball-yankin' sound reminiscent of Aerosmith, but at the chorus, has a sound reminiscent of the layered guitars of Rush.  This is also a great showcase piece for Kevin's virtuoso guitar noodling, which is a central part of the Swig's sound.

The fourth song, "Alone", is a Bee Gee's cover. When the Bee Gee's did this, it was slow paced syrupy pop (that sounded like overproduced Beach Boys in places), but after the Swigs have their way with it, it sounds more like The Clash in their early years. Just as they did with David Bowie's "Let Me Sleep With You", the Swigs take a a sweet lush pop song and turn it into a rock grunge anthem by speeding up the tempo and adding layers of guitar fuzz. Personally, I prefer The Swigs versions of both of those songs just mentioned, because they give them more grunge and earthiness.

The fifth song, an instrumental called "Omas Ludvig", is a showcase piece for the band, especially for Kevin Henderson's guitar work.   The bass and drums do a great job holding the song together. The drummer (Mike Troupe) is a great drummer; he know all kinds of of rock licks that sound just right, and Eric Syder does a fine job on the bass.

"Downtown Lucy" (the 6th song here) is one of my favorite cuts.  Just as with the Bowie cover, and the Bee Gees cover, the Swigs do it again! They take an old Rolling Stones song (from their "Metamorphosis" album) and actually improve it! The original has a down-home lazy feel, with the Stones all singing along to a single acoustic slide guitar (before launching into a rock jam). The Swigs turn it into something that sounds like T-Rex playing through a stack of Marshall amps.

"Fire Ants" is another instrumental, written by bassist Eric Snyder. Starts out sounding like Hendrix on "Voodoo Child", but then goes into an extended jam that sounds like U2 playing Hendrix's "Third Stone From The Sun", with the chorus sounding like the wall-of-guitars sound of  Rush. At least that's the best way I can describe it. You can get lost in the layers of sonic texture. Pure pleasure!

 The last song on the album, "Wasted Waitress Waltz" is another showcase piece for the band. First of all, it's not a waltz. Second, this song features a lot of frenetic strumming combined with effects pedals, along with driving drums and frentic bass. This song is instrumental, and everyone in the band shines.

What I really like about The Swigs is that their sound is firmly rooted in the sounds of classic hard rock; they've got a sense of roots. I also like they value musicianship, as is evidenced by the number of instrumental numbers on the album.  They embrace the bands and sounds that punkers outright rejected a few years later (with the advent of quirk pop and punk sounds of "New Wave"), making making them sound fresh and interesting again. "Johnson Family Values" is an album that grows on you. There's no bad cut on the album. There are musical layers that keep it always interesting to listen to. They did a really great job on this disc, and I look forward to seeing them next time they play a gig.

"Johnson Family Values": a great album from The Swigs!!

Sapient Records website

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