A Change of Tune: Meet Sarah Swain and the Oh Boys, by Ellery Lamm
CD Release Review of Every Little Bird, by Candace Hammond
Cape's Women Musicians Join Together for Cancer Benefit, by Patrick Grodon
As seen in the Cape Cod Times, CD Release Review of One Girl Town, by Bill O'Neill
Before she moved to Centerville, Sarah Swain played in Boston indie-rock bands Professor Gascan, the Sallies and the Spike Emerson Society. Of making her solo CD, she says, ''It was fun to do what I want and not have it be a democracy.''
Swain spent her early childhood in West Virginia, and the country-music radio she listened to in those days is stamped all over ''One Girl Town'' (she gives shout outs to Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline along the way). The highlight is the lead track, ''Train,'' one of my favorite songs of the year. Boston studio ace Steve Sadler lays down some dobro that captures the iconic lonesome feeling of a train in the distance, perfect backing for Swain's Maria McKee-style crooning.
Swain can rev up the engines, too, closing with a cover of the Rolling Stones' ''Under My Thumb.'' Swain plans to have a CD-release concert Sept. 14 at Joe's Beach Road Bar & Grille in Orleans. If she's backed by some of her Boston pals and the Cape musicians she's been gigging with lately (including Steve Wood of the Greenheads), it should be quite a show.
HARWICH – Sarah Swain of Harwich is releasing her second album “Every Little Bird” on Nov. 24, in a record release party at Harvest Gallery & Wine Bar in Dennis.
“From 7:30 to 8:30 we’re playing the album in order,” says Swain. “After that it’s a rockabilly dance party.”
Music is central to Swain’s life. She played flute in the school marching band, an experience she now cringes at. When she was 14 her mom bought her a guitar. “I couldn’t wait to get home from school and play it,” she said. She started writing what she calls “really bad poetry” and singing in aspirant bands. One was an all-girl band. Their name? Girl Band. “We were so terrible that it was awesome,” she said with a laugh.
Swain has become a fixture in the Cape music scene since relocating from the North Shore in 2004. Depending on the night, you can catch her solo, or as Sarah Swain and the Oh Boys, or with rockabilly outfit Randy & The Oak Trees. She also plays bass in over-the-top rock act The Greenheads, with impresario Steve “Woo Woo” Wood on guitar.
While she’s played venues like the Paradise in Boston and toured the eastern seaboard – both with her old band the Spike Emerson Society – today Swain gets more satisfaction playing a few nights a week on the Cape.
In 2005 she married artist Steve Swain and together they run the Frying Pan Gallery in Wellfleet. The couple have three children, girls Lucy and Jessie, and a new arrival, Stan. (Stan slept peacefully in his car seat during our interview at an area coffee shop; the ladies knitting at an adjacent table, one celebrating her 94th birthday, fairly cooed over him.) Swain cites Neil Young, Paul Westerburg and Lucinda Williams as favorite songwriters.
On stage, she has a kind of bright-eyed enthusiasm, not unlike June Carter Cash; it’s just infectious. She looks like she’s having the best time up there, playing and singing her heart out.
Sometimes this joie-de-vivre spills over. Literally. At the recent Wellfleet Oyster Fest, she took the stage for the first time since Stan was born. Her normally calloused picking fingers had gone soft, and by the second song she’d taken a not-insignificant chunk out of her right index finger. When blood appeared on her strings she initially thought it was nail polish. “I thought my girls did it!” Soon the guitar was splattered like a Pollock original. Swain says the blood got everywhere, “on the guitar, even on me, on my neck…” She turned around to show drummer Liam Hogg the gore, but didn’t stop the show. “She slowly turned back to the crowd and the sun caught the front of the guitar, and it looked like she had been shot!” says Hogg. “Then the picks started to fly. By the time the set was over, the stage was littered with her blood, sweat, and picks.”
Forgetting herself, lost in the high of playing to the massive, packed to the far reaches of vision Oyster Fest crowd, she plowed on. She even did a little jump at one point. “I was thinking: I’ve got to take it easy,” she laughed.
With the recent pregnancy and all, “a few days ago I wasn’t even supposed to be walking up stairs.”The bloody guitar appears as the back cover shot for the album. The cover is artwork from Mary Jo McConnell, with design from Jen Morgan; both artists hang in the Frying Pan Gallery.The disc begins with some plucked electric guitar strings and we’re building and we’re off. “Ain’t Going Back” is the rousing, affirming opener. It’s an expansive album, a flash bulb popping trip into the world of a songwriter’s imagination, a place where The Whiskey Three Step becomes a drunken new dance craze, where movies dance behind your eyes, a woman is grown and no longer wild’ but still feels like a motherless child. A heartfelt authenticity rings throughout.“Carol” wouldn’t look out of place on the Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.” “Start the Circle” is a Wilco-esque mid tempo roller.The principal band is Jerry Smith on lead and slide guitar, Ron Siegel on upright bass and Liam Hogg on drums.
Additionally, there are several collaborations on the album. Terry Adams from the influential NRBQ plays piano on two tracks. She plays an unreleased Chandler Travis song called ‘Candle.’ Travis, of The Catbirds (and many other bands), calls it a “quiet little number” and says Sarah is “wonderful, just a strong beam of sunlight.” Swain also covers ‘I’m Comin’, a Ticks song written by Emma Dubner. This latter song is a real rocker; I once saw Swain play it for an already boisterous Wellfleet Beachcomber crowd interspersed with a large, edging-towards-mayhem bachelorette party – they went insane, screaming along to the chorus.
Moods shift throughout the album. The titular “Every Little Bird” plucks the heartstrings. It’s an ode to loved ones lost – moms especially – to longing, hope and faith. Swain says sometimes songs hit her “like a snowball in the head,” and this was an example. The lyrics, the melody; it all came rushing at once. “Sweet Lorraine” closes the album with a slow burner à la Ella Fitzgerald. With its lilting piano yearnings, it’s a fittingly unexpected coda that complements the album’s diverse freshness.
As seen in the Cape Cod Chronicle:
Sarah Swain Releases Album ‘Every Little Bird’ Saturday
by Rob Conery