Emma Swift. Blonde On The Tracks. Tiny Ghost Records

a0721381643_16Here at Blabber’nSmoke we were first alerted to the talent that is Emma Swift when she supported Robyn Hitchcock at Glasgow’s Mono cafe bar way back in 2015. This Australian, transplanted to Nashville, knocked us out with her superb voice and excellent songs . Her then current release, a self-titled mini album, (reviewed here)  reinforced our suspicions that Ms. Swift was on the cusp of greatness. However, an anticipated follow up album failed to appear until news of Blonde On The Tracks started to trickle out a few months ago. It was a surprise to hear that it would be an album of Dylan covers, but as promotion for the release picked up, Swift revealed that the genesis of the record was rooted in a period of depression and, unable to write her own songs, she turned to Dylan for some kind of solace.

The record’s been long in the gestation with the earliest songs recorded in 2017 but the covid lock down seems to have been the midwife which gave Swift the final push with the final songs recorded via file transfers and email. Indeed, there’s a cover of I Contain Multitudes from Dylan’s latest opus, which brings us bang up to date. Despite this storied history, the album hangs together perfectly as Swift sings some of her favourite Dylan songs, honing in on his romantic bent and wanting to retell the songs with a female voice. In this, she was influenced by the tradition of interpretation, citing forebears such as Joan Baez and Sinead O’Connor who stamped their own personality on their covers of other writers’ songs.

The album opens on familiar territory with an excellent folk rock take on Queen Jane Approximately including a Byrds’ like jangled 12 string guitar break. It’s quite glorious and in its mannered poise recalls Gene Clark as opposed to Roger McGuinn while there are also elements of the early Fairport Convention in its delivery. In contrast, I Contain Multitudes, recorded in lock down, is pared down but Swift’s intimate voice offers much more warmth than Dylan’s venerable stylings. Indeed, over the rest of the album, it’s Swift’s  voice which commands attention as she breathes new life into the man’s back catalogue while the arrangements are, at times, breathtaking.

One Of Must Know (Sooner Or Later) is offered a plangent Laurel Canyon country arrangement with wallops of keening cosmic country pedal steel with Swift reminding one of the late Terry Melcher’s ennui on his ill fated solo album. Simple Twist Of Fate has the hazy feel of Mazzy Star and there’s a lovely blast of Garth Hudson like organ on the sublime The Man In Me. It’s commendable that Swift avoids most of the obvious contenders here, digging deeper into Dylan’s past and it’s a delight to see that she visits Planet Waves for her rendition of Going Going Gone. On this perfectly realised vision of a potential Dylan visit to Muscle Shoals, Swift’s band members really shine as the rhythm section hit a slow groove, the various guitars slip and slide like moccasin snakes in a swamp and Swift inhabits Bobbie Gentry territory.

The epicentre is Swift’s superb rendition of Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands. Equal in length to the original, Swift and her band retain the ebb and flow and mystique and romance of the original. Thus shielded, Swift truly inhabits the song, her voice a plaintive and endearing invitation to enter Dylan’s kaleidoscopic world. It’s like Alice in Dylanland, a glorious tumble down a glorious rabbit hole.

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