Emma Swift: Blonde on the Tracks (Tiny Ghost) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020  

Emma Swift

Blonde on the Tracks

Tiny Ghost

Aug 11, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


As much as we could all use a good joke these days, an Aussie, a Brit, and an American Southerner walk into a recording studio and emerge with a sublime set of Bob Dylan covers really needs no punchline. Stuck inside of Nashville with nothing much to do, Australian-born singer/songwriter Emma Swift and her buddies Robyn Hitchcock and Pat Sansone (Wilco) craft some definitive takes on some of Dylan’s classics and lesser known songs as well. The eight songs on the cleverly titled Blonde On The Tracks range chronologically from Highway 61 Revisited up through this year’s Rough and Rowdy Ways.  

If you’re a fan of Dylan’s as well as opening album runs, the first three tracks here are truly a master class in interpretation. “Queen Jane Approximately” may not be ripe on emotional content, but the “Bells of Rhymney”-like chime and rim tap beat frame the perfect introduction to Swift’s unaccented vocals that in their purity convey all manner of shading. Case in point is her feather light take on the fresh off the boat “I Contain Multitudes.” Released by Dylan as a single this April, short of a leak it’s hard to get your head around how Swift could have already made this one as her own. Dylan’s version certainly conveys humor along with decades of well earned braggadocio, but Swift’s more youthful cast shines a light on the brilliance of deliciously sly line after line: “I paint landscapes and I paint nudes, I contain multitudes.” Walt Whitman never stood a chance. Swift gives herself over fully to the pedal steel flavored “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” making it the album’s unassailable triumph. Who knows what Swift tapped into here to pull this off, but the emotional depth and softened bite from the original could certainly patch up relationships, but also end wars. 

It’s hard to relate Swift’s vocal tone to her contemporaries, but in spots like “One of Us Must Know” and particularly on “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” she adopts the sweet, stoner’s pace of early Edie Brickell. If you’re going to tackle a 12-minute cover, you might as well take it nice and easy. Swift never falters over the course of the album, but there are some songs where it’s just hard to surpass the original. There are so many of Dylan’s own varied approaches to “Simple Twist of Fate” that it’s difficult to slot yourself in on that one. And though “The Man In Me” (from the criminally underrated New Morning) takes a different approach, it’s hard to wrest it away from The Big Lebowski soundtrack. Or, in the case of a song not covered here, “Shelter From the Storm,” now belongs ignominiously to Bill Murray. 

On projects such as these, it always seems best to pick a more obscure song or in the fantabulous case of “Multitudes” reinterpret a brand new one. Swift at her best here gives us the discovery of hearing something for the first time the way she wants us to. Or at least making something more familiar come across as a new introduction. The closing time glow that “You’re a Big Girl Now” leaves the listener with makes for a strong final argument that there will be more than one memorable folklorist this year.                  

Though a few steps behind them alphabetically, Swift sidles up alongside the killer B’s (The Byrds, The Band, and Joan Baez) of Dylan interpreters. Swift in part details that Blonde on the Tracks emerged from a bout of writer’s block. Not that we should wish that on anyone, but the Nashville songwriter circles would do well to notice Swift’s vocal prowess and take a number.  In the meantime what more could a Dylan fanatic ask for than this collection of sweetly roasted chestnuts? Well, since you asked, how about a full-on remake of Oh Mercy. (www.emmaswift.bandcamp.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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