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There is a good amount of original music that can be described as “roots” or “folk rock” in this region. Although the Twin Cities based band, Swallows, do achieve these genres in their music, the delivery and mix of elements in their fifth album “Witching & Divining” sets them uniquely apart.
The album begins with the bluesy song “Long Long Shadow.” It could be compared to 4onthefloor except not so hard rocking and a bit more mysterious. It seems that every musician in the band is a multi-instrumentalist and this full array of instruments that include cello, keys/organ, guitars, vocal harmonies and a very thick and diverse arrangement of percussion gives the band a very full and unique sound. As far as how the instruments come together on the album, it is done well and tastefully.
The band also describes itself as tribal folk and this in the next track “The Winnowing.” What also shows is an incredible amount of dynamics from one song to another. Although the band can certainly rock out with a feel of 70s psychedelic rock at times or bluesy country at other times, songs like this one are very subtle from ambient noises from the guitar, soft moans of the cello and the very laid back percussion that brings in things like chimes, sandpaper and other unconventional percussive instruments. Perhaps the least subtle thing on this track and a lot of the other songs on the album are band leader Jeff Crandall’s rough and gritty Tom Waits like voice. Even the melodies and delivery carry that alternative bluesy Waits feel to them.
One of the more “roots” oriented songs would be the steady paced “Brigid’s Cross” which brings in some of the more traditional instruments one would associate with that style of music. Mandolin and harmonica always help for creating that type of feel and this song is no exception. This and several of the other songs on the album features cello player, Toni Tinetti, harmonizing with Crandall as female backing vocals. This backing vocals really makes for an a nice impact for songs like “Brigid Cross,” but also creates something smooth and beautiful with laid back and ambient folk songs like “High Water.” Other members include Aaron Kerr (bass/cello/vocals), Tyson Allison (guitar/keys/bass/percussion), Mike Nordby (mandolin/percussion/vocals) and Justin DeLeon (drums.)
When comparing songs like “High Water” to more some of the more rock oriented songs like “Seismic,” it’s interesting to see all of the sides of this band. An album should always be an experience that takes the listener through a journey throughout the album and “Witching & Divining” definitely steps up in this area. The band is not stuck to any one particular sound or genre, yet the songs fit together by creating a certain mood within the album. In the end it doesn’t really matter what specific genre Swallows falls under, calling it “alternative” is your best bet. What’s happening here is a solid album that roams around in a realm of moody grittiness but shines through here and there with subtle beauty and mystery. Even looking at the album’s cover portrays the feel of this album well.
Swallows will be playing at Beaner’s Central in West Duluth on Saturday, February 2 along with established songwriter, Kary Vernon from the Twin Cities and the piano oriented songs of Mary Bue from Duluth. Crandall mentioned that this show will be more acoustic but hopes to return again to the Twin Ports with an electric set.