21st Century Reviews

You liked Roaring Jack, you might like some of the recent releases reviewed here!

29 November 2006

Swill and the Swaggerband - Elvis Lives Here (Irregular Records, 2006)

Irregular Records IRR062

Earlier this year, Swill (aka Phil Odgers of The Men They Couldn't Hang) released a taste of things to come. Entitled Doh, Ray, Me-Me-Me-Me-Me (Hanwell Records), it contained rougher, (mostly) solo versions of five songs which appear on Elvis Lives Here, along with a couple of extra tracks. While it gave some idea of how Swill's latest songs would sound, it didn't prepare me for how much more majestic the songs sound when Swill brings in his Swaggerband.

And what a band! It's all acoustic, yet the sound the Swaggerband generates is fierce at times. There's variety of guitars, mandolins and fiddles, underpinned by the tight rhythm section of Ricky McGuire on acoustic bass and Jon Odgers on various percussion instruments. And over the top of that you get Swill's warm and charismatic vocals augmented with some fabulous backing harmonies.

'Drag You Down' is a foot-stomping opener that has a real live feel about it. Stepan Pasicznyk's accordion and Bobby Valentino's fiddle drive this song, and the onslaught of mandolins in the middle eight is just incredible! Johanna Gibbons's great big backing vocals add much to the original version. The banjo- and bongo-fuelled 'Just A Dial Tone Away' seems like a TMTCH song in waiting, as it's not hard to imagine this song with the full electric treatment.

'In The Breeze' brings us back down to earth, telling of the horrors of a recent war in the Persian Gulf. It is a deceptively sweet-sounding song, somewhat like TMTCH's 'Father's Wrong'. And like that song, a very grim tale lies beneath. By contrast, the title track is uplifting and witty. It's about the 'tired and tatty losers' who visit their local 'tired and tatty boozer' on Friday nights to have their lives brightened by an Elvis impersonator.

While Swill wrote all the music and some of the lyrics, quite a few of the album's lyrics come from Swill's mates. Attila the Stockbroker contributed a cynical look at sensationalism in the local newspaper, 'Shed Fire'. Noted folkie Robb Johnson penned 'Elvis Lives Here' and the a cappella closer, 'Marjory and Johnny', while TMTCH bandmate Paul Simmonds wrote a few others. My favourite track, 'Deep Blue Sea', is one of Swill's own. It is probably the punchiest, catchiest song on the album, all fired up by some superb zydeco-style accordion and a raging snare drum.

As with The Day After, Swill and the Swaggerband's debut from 2004, there's an obvious debt to American music here, whether it be country, folk or rockabilly. But the vocals and the lyrics make this one so quintessentially English. Definitely worthy of your attention.


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