Emma Swift’s voyage as a songwriter has seen her progressively sink deeper and deeper into the soulful well of country music. As a broadcaster she has long championed Americana music in its many forms, soaking up its heart and nuances, traditions and spirit and as one half of duo 49 Goodbyes she showed her ambition and potential to become a genuinely strong singer and songwriter.
This long awaited, self-titled mini-album is a massive step up, a true arrival of sorts. By spending much of her time in Nashville, the spiritual home of country music, in recent years Swift has truly made the transition from admiring that world from afar to being part of it, living and learning from the inside. She has gathered around her an impressive list of names starting with fellow Australian, ex-pat Anne McCue who produces and contributes her own guitar playing. McCue’s production is sympathetic and warmly understated; essential when Swift’s songs are such heart-worn and emotional pieces. The other players include Bryan Owings (Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, Iris Dement, Patty Griffin) on drums, Russ Pahl (John Hiatt, The Secret Sisters, Elton John) on pedal steel and James Haggerty (The Autumn Defense, Ruby Boots) on bass and the quality of all of their playing imbues the music with an authenticity and aching melancholy, enhancing the quality of the songwriting.
The key to the magic of this mini-album is the pacing of the music. It swings slowly, aches intently and has a shimmering haze which never quite loses focus on the song at hand. Swift’s voice suits the sad sway perfectly, adding touches of weary grittiness throughout and a devastating yearning swoon in the chorus of the sole cover ‘Total Control’ (The Motels). There is also a sweet vulnerability that permeates ‘Seasons’ and ‘Bittersweet’ showing that beneath the surface lies a pining for times and people lost, themes of separation and distance (‘James’) and heartfelt longing.
Swift has created a dreamy intoxicated world where the heavy-lidded noir crawl of bands like Mazzy Star and Spain co-exist with late-night honky tonk bars, tear-stained sheets and flickering neon signs. These songs are as much about mood as they are stories and once you extract yourself from the stress and pace of the day, slow your heartbeat and open your tear ducts these half a dozen songs will draw you in deep, so successfully has she captured the essence of country soul in a modern and metropolitan context.