Patrick Sweany. Close to the Floor.
Nine Mile Records, 2013. Patrick Sweany: http://www.patricksweany.com/
It’s hard to do anything different in the blues. It’s been around for a long time and it has certain structures that musn’t be violated without falling outside the boundaries and angering the purists. Patrick Sweany is certainly aware of this, although it doesn’t seem to bother him much. He mixes Piedmont, Delta, and other blues styles in eclectic quantities and often throws in other styles from rock to R&B just because he needs to. He doesn’t even call himself a bluesman, but rather a blues-influenced rocker. But even a purist like me isn’t turned off by that because so much of what he does is informed by blues. He’s put out several albums, and has a consistent, instantly recognizable style. I went to some YouTube videos he did back in 2008, just to see what’s different. As it turns out, not a lot, except that he sounds a bit more tired, and on this album more down and out. He’s got a winning sound, and there’s no sense messing with it. With his latest album, he also adds a dash of Muscle Shoals soul in the mix. The good news is that no matter what he tackles, it never sounds forced, and all the songs work together regardless of mood or approach. The bad news is that I have very little bad news to report.
When I listen to Sweany’s voice, I hear lots of influences, or echoes of other singers; not a bad thing, just a curiosity. Classic blues singers are always in the background, but this time out I hear touches of Van Morrison phrasing, bits of John Fogerty, and a dash of Ry Cooder. It depends on whether he’s going soulful, rocking out, or singing a ballad. Much of the album deals with loss (apparently of family members), and so one might expect music to drag down the listener, but it doesn’t work that way. Yes, there’s sadness and grief, but there’s also uplift and hope, and even when not expressed in the lyrics, they’re in the sweet, delicious guitar solos that pepper most of the songs. In fact, the majority of the tunes are midtempo, with only three of the dozen originals in the slow ballad category, and each is quite different. The slowest is the mystical-sounding “The Island” (my least favorite song here), but there’s also the loping country sound of “Deep Water,” and the gutbucket blues burner, “Every Night Every Day,” my favorite song on the album. Two songs go in the opposite direction. “Bus Station” is a rocker, with an insistent beat that reminds me of Fogerty’s “Lodi,” and has some really fine, strong guitar work at the bridge. “Just One Night” is sweet soul music in a bit of a Van Morrison mode. Here the guitar work is gentler, but just as good.
All the rest of the songs fall into a midtempo range, but with varying mixtures of blues, soul, and rock. “Working for You” has a menacing sound, while “It’s Spiritual” takes a more soulful approach, again a bit like Morrison. There’s more great guitar work here, and I don’t know whether it’s Sweany or McMahan, but thanks, I love it. “Every Gun” feels percussion-driven, and insistent rocker with a dark message, and “Slippin’” takes us into the bars, Bobby “Blue” Bland-style. The closer, “Terrible Years,” takes a more acoustic approach. Every song is different, every song is damned good. And the band is excellent.
I haven’t listened to much of Sweany’s music before, and I’m sorry that I’ve missed some great music. I shall remedy that oversight.
Personnel: Patrick Sweany (guitar, vocals), Joe V. McMahan (guitar, percussion, melodica), Ron Eoff (bass), Ryan Norris (keys, acoustic guitars), Jon Radford (drums, percussion), Carey Kotsionis, Melissa Mathes, & Steve Poulton (harmony vocals).
Tracks: Working for You, It’s Spiritual, Every Night Every Day, Bus Station, The Island, Every Gun, Deep Water, Just One Night, Slippin’, Terrible Years.