Borrowing music from Broadway (Oliver!, South Pacific, Bye Bye Birdie
), alt-rock (The Dresden Dolls' "Sing!"), the great American Songbook, ("Getting To Know You"), R&B, and beyond, it takes an artist of sure and rising stature to curate one hell of a coherent protest album. Veronica Swift
is that artist and, most declaratively, This Bitter Earth
is that album.
Since there is not a standard of any bearing that Swift doesn't defy and stamp as her very own, it comes as no surprise that she can take "Trust In Me" from Disney's The Jungle Book
, the poppy effluence and innocence of the Crystal's '62 single "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" and Lionel Bart's torcher "As Long As He Needs Me" and braid them into a unsettling vision of the emotional upheaval too many women in too many abusive relationships experience on a dailyno, hourlybasis.
Swift is twenty-seven and at the top of her game; This Bitter Earth
spotlights all of her precocious, vanguard strengths and daring interpretative acknowledgement of the music past, present and future. Her skilfully active arrangements, ("He Hit Me" is going to kick your ass plain and simple) and her deep intuition of the unbridled energy of music as one pure whole, not a filing cabinet of categories, weave a compelling libretto of dark, larger truths we try to ignore but dare not. Can not.
Beating at the core of this early 2021-best-of is pianist Emmet Cohen
, (hot off his own Mack Avenue debut Future Stride
), bassist Yasushi Nakamura
and drummer Bryan Carter
who complement, challenge, and freestyle Swift to heights few peers (Cecile McLorin Salvant
, Cyrille Aimee
, Jazzmeia Horn
) readily and routinely access. David Frishberg
's light hearted "The Sports Page" finds Swift taking fake news avatars by the balls and twisting while the trio, Cohen especially, punches away. "How Lovely to Be a Woman" may exhibit a comedic exuberance with a pop-martial bounce but Swift makes it a not-so-sly swipe at a sexism that virally persists from one supposedly enlightened generation to the next. From South Pacific
, the darkly intentioned "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" mirrors our sad, xenophobic headlines a bit too precisely for comfort.
That said, This Bitter Earth
centered on Swift's tradition-grounded, yet air-borne, vocal athleticism (her scatting alone provides an engine of smiles despite all the deeper leanings) and wildfire performances from all involvedcrackles like a live wire from the title opener to its urgent closer "Sing!." Thirteen tracks demand you stop and listen, be it for the beat, the swing, the voice, the music, the message. Whatever. You're gonna listen. Just try not to.
This Bitter Earth; How Lovely to Be a Woman; You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught; Getting to Know You; The Man I Love; You’re the Dangerous Type; Trust in Me; He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss); As Long as He Needs Me; Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong; Prisoner of Love; The Sports Page; Sing.
Lavinia Pavlish: violin; Meitar Forkosh: violin; Andrew Griffin: viola; Susan D. Mandel: cello: Steven
Feifke: background vocals; Ryan Paternite: background vocals; Will Wakefield: background vocals;
Stone Robinson Elementary School Choir: background vocals; Walton Middle School Girls Choir: