Now Playing: Emma Swift’s ‘Blonde On The Tracks’

Emma Swift
Image courtesy of Emma Swift

Singer-songwriter Emma Swift is prepping for the release of her upcoming new album on Tiny Ghost Records titled Blonde On The Tracks.  It drops on Bandcamp August 14th and hits the record racks on August 28th.  But first, for those not yet familiar with the artist in question, a bit o’ background.

Emma Swift

Emma Swift
Image by Autumn Dozier

According to her official website, Swift is an Australian-born singer and songwriter.  In 2013, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee.  Her rockin’ resume includes her premiere platter, the self-titled 2014 EP.  It “was nominated for a 2014 ARIA Award for Best Country Album.”

Swift has toured Australia, the UK, the US, and Europe with Robyn Hitchcock.  The performers put out a pair of singles together: 2015’s “Follow Your Money” and 2016’s “Love Is a Drag.” Swift also opened for Ryan Adams in 2016.   She also sang backing vocals on Hitchcock’s 2017 release.

Signature sound

Emma Swift’s signature sound is a mix of music genres. It includes Americana, country, and indie folk.  Her music is inspired by such other artists as Sandy Denny, Marianne Faithfull, Johnny Mar, poet Dora Maar,  “a plethora of dead poets”, and, of course, Bob Dylan.  

Blonde On The Tracks

This CD is a collection of covers of Bob Dylan songs.  It includes eight tracks.  Swift leads the way on vocals.  She is backed by Wilco’s Patrick Sansone (production, guitar, keyboards, bass, and percussion),   Robyn Hitchcock (guitar), Thayer Serrano (pedal steel),  Jon Estes (bass),  and Jon Radford (drums and percussion). 

In an announcement made on social media on Dylan’s birthday weekend, Swift noted that this new release is “a reimagining of some of my favourite [Bob Dylan] tunes.”  Six tracks were recorded during an episode of depression back in 2017.  She recorded another two during lockdown.

Swift told Rolling Stone:  “The idea for the album came about during a long depressive phase.  The kind where it’s hard to get out of bed and get dressed and present to the world as a high-functioning human. I was lost on all fronts no doubt, but especially creatively.”

She also said: “I’ve never been a prolific writer, but this period was especially wordless.  Sad, listless, and desperate, I began singing Bob Dylan songs as a way to have something to wake up for. Interpreting other people’s emotions is how I learned to sing and I’ve always enjoyed hearing Dylan’s songs from a female perspective.  You can learn a lot about melody and feeling by the way a singer chooses to interpret someone else’s song.”  

The album is not being released on any streaming service.  It will, however, be released on both black and orange vinyl, cassette, CD, and digital download.  

Track by Track

The album opener is Swift’s nigh tender tuneful take on “Queen Jane Approximately” which appears on Dylan’s 1965 LP Highway 61 Revisited.  Despite following in the footsteps of the Grateful Dead and even The Four Seasons, this version works well as the lead-in. 

“I Contain Multitudes”, first found on Dylan’s latest disc, Rough and Rowdy Ways, Swift’s version is welcomingly warm and surprisingly personal.  Making Dylan noticeably beautiful is generally not an easy task yet Swift does it.

She adds: “Like many of the great Bob Dylan songs, ‘I Contain Multitudes’ is a magnet, a fly’s eye view of the cultural wilderness in which we wander. It’s magnificent and heartbreaking, a love letter to words and art and music, to all that has been lost and all that might be redeemed. To me, this song has become an obsession, a mantra, a prayer. I can’t hope to eclipse it, all I hope to do is allow more people to hear it, to feel comforted by it, and to love it the way I do.”

It’s followed by her adaptation of a song from Dylan’s 1966 Blonde on Blonde vinyl, “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later).”   When a female singer performs a song written by a male it sometimes creates issues.  There are no such moments on this track or any of the others.  The only thing that is quickly apparent is that Swift makes these songs sound pretty and much more listener-friendly. 

The next number is a cover of “Simple Twist Of Fate” from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks.  Again, she stays true to the original and yet makes it refreshing without going too far from the source material.  Swift’s version of Dylan’s 1966 Blonde on Blonde song “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” is somehow both reminiscent of the song’s distinctive sound and yet retains Swift’s personal, tuneful trademark.  

Swift travels from 1966 to Dylan’s 1970 platter New Morning with her performance of “The Man In Me.”  Both Swift and the band remain solid and consistent in their presentation of the material.  Fast-forward to Dylan’s 1974 release Planet Waves and the song “Going Going Gone.”  Fortunately for all concerned, Swift and company’s talent is not yet even “going” let alone “gone.”   

The album endnote is Swift’s effective adaptation of another BOTT track, “You’re A Big Girl Now.”  It serves as yet another example of her talents and leaves listeners wanting more.   

Overall . . .

Overall, this “reimagining” of various Bob Dylan songs is especially interesting in that Swift chose songs from various eras of the artist’s career including material from such albums as Blonde On Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, Highway 61 Revisited, John Wesley Harding, and Nashville Skyline.  Her vocals add both a famine and feminist touch to the tracks.  Truly universal songs transcend everything including gender.  

Along with top-notch professional performances by the backing musicians, the work as a whole seems to present a balance of foil to Dylan’s various styles of presentation.  Swift delivers them all in a refreshing fashion without losing track of the atmosphere and meaning of the original tracks.  So check out Emma Swift’s Blonde On The Tracks and hear the songs of the “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands.”