My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Suzy Bogguss – ‘Swing’

swingAlthough there was a swing revival that lasted for a few years (roughly 1998-2003), swing as a musical genre had its heyday during the period from 1935-1946, the period in which swing was America’s popular music. The economics of trying to keep a large band on the road after World War II led to the great swing bands breaking up and the music scene becoming the domain of smaller musical groups and solo singing stars.

Suzy Bogguss falls into that small group of country artists who comfortably perform in a wide variety of musical genres. Western, folk, country, pop and jazz all are areas which Ms. Bogguss has conquered.

The title of the album, Swing, suggests an album full of classic swing-era music from the Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie era. I would love for Suzy to record such an album, but this one isn’t it, although she does reach into the past for some classic swing numbers.

Swing could be described as Suzy’s tribute to modern day swing/jazz, with five of the twelve songs on the album coming from the pen of April Barrows.  Ms. Barrows, an excellent singer in her own right, composes and sings songs with the feel of swing, but with more modern and introspective lyrics than customarily found in the swing of the big band era.

In order to achieve an authentic feel for this album, Suzy engaged country music’s leading purveyor of swing, Ray Benson and members of Asleep at the Wheel.  Ray Benson plays guitar, Floyd Domino is on piano, David Sanger beats and brushes the drums and Jason Roberts plays fiddle.   Suzy and Ray produced the album.

Swing opens up with the Nat King Cole-Irving Mills composition “Straighten Up and Fly Right”, a major hit for the Nat King Cole Trio during the middle 1940s reaching #1 on the Harlem Hit Parade and spending six weeks at #1 on Billboard’s country chart . The song was based on a folk tale that Cole’s minister father had used as a theme for one of his sermons. In the song, a buzzard who had been taking different animals for joy rides would bounce them off and eat them after they were smashed on the rocks below. The monkey who is riding the buzzard in this humorous song is much too smart to fall for this trick, hanging onto the buzzard’s neck, with the admonition to “straighten up and fly right”.  There are people who swear that Nat King Cole was the best male vocalist ever in any genre of popular music (they may be right). Suzy handles the song effectively, although perhaps not with the quite the humor permeating her vocal that Cole had in his version.

“My Dream Is You” is the first of the five April Barrow compositions, this one co-written with David Hungate. A lovely ballad, I like Suzy’s voice a little better than I like that of Ms Barrows so I actually prefer Suzy’s cover rendition to that of the original. Barrow’s lyrics are strong on imagery – who wouldn’t appreciate lyrics like this:

Einstein Had One, So Did Edison
I’ve Got One Too

I Have A Dream , And My Dream Is You
Making You A Part of My Life
It Will Come True
I Have A Dream,
And My Dream Is You

Lew Brown (December 10, 1893 – February 5, 1958)  wrote lyrics with many of Tin Pan Alley’s finest composers. Three of his better known songs were “Life Is Just A Bowl of Cherries”, “Button Up Your Overcoat” and “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)”. Suzy’s third track covers one of Lew’s less upbeat numbers, the bluesy “Comes Love” , a song Joni Mitchell covered on one of her albums

Comes a rain storm
Put your rubbers on your feet
Comes a snow storm
You can get a little heat
Comes love
Nothing can be done

Ain’t it the truth !

I don’t know much about songwriter Ken Burgan except that he’s been writing lyrics since at least the early 1970s., when the likes of Maria Muldaur and Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks recorded the song “Sweetheart (Waitress In A Donut Shop)”. The song is a bit silly, the musings of a waitress about an imagined romance with a customer. Suzy sings the song with just the right sense of wry humor and longing.

Sweetheart but it doesn’t beat for me
It beats softly in love but not for  me
Sweet lips I know I’ll never kiss
You’re what I’m afraid I must miss
I’m a waitress in the donut shop

I see him on his morning stop
He talks of love
But he’s speaking of sweetheart
She gives him a rough time.
He gives me his dime and then parts
In dreams I can make you my own!

“Jumping Into Spring” is another April Barrows-David Hungate collaboration. The arrangement is an uptempo jazz arrangement at which Ms. Bogguss excels:

 

Saw a little daffodil
Gave my little heart a thrill
These pretty things have really got me
Jumping into spring

 

“Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” is a tune from the pen of America’s greatest musical composer, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington , with lyrics added later by Bob Russell. Outside of jazz circles, I’m afraid that Ellington slowly is being forgotten. I urge readers to seek out his music. While Duke worked primarily in the swing idiom, he wrote many blues-based songs (such as this one) and many pop  and classical songs as well.

“Burning the Toast” is an upbeat April Barrows composition about the joys of newly-wed love, that Suzy absolutely nails. I believe every word of it when she sings:

 

The wedding was a small affair
Just a few old friends were there
And I knew that I loved you
When you choked the words ‘I Do’

We found ourselves a two room flat
With pots and pans and a pussycat
And we cuddle and coo
Like a couple of lovebirds do.

Bridge:

And every morning I’m burning the toast for you
I’m only happy if I’m doing the most I can for you
The coffee’s weak but my love is strong
It’s got To last the whole day long
‘Til tomorrow morning when the sun comes shining through
And I’ll start all over burning the toast for you.

 

Doug Crider is Suzy’s husband and a very talented songwriter. Suzy, Doug, and Paul Kramer collaborated in writing “ It’s Always New to Me”  which definitely falls into the category of “torch” songs, a song that would have have been fine fare for Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald or Anita O’Day to sing.

Ray Benson duets with Suzy on the joyous “Cupid Shot Us Both With One Arrow”, another April Barrows composition. Jason Roberts is definitely one of America’s great fiddlers, capable of channeling either Johnny Gimble or Stephane Grappelli with his fiddle. Given the nature of the material Roberts mostly goes for Grappelli on this album including on this upbeat track.

Suzy slows the tempo down for “Picadilly Circus”, a romantic ballad from the pen of Paul Kramer . I would describe this as a well performed cocktail lounge song. Another Paul Kramer tune follows in the uptempo “It’s All About You”. Paul Biller plays guitar on both of these tracks.

The album closes with yet another April Barrow song “Stay Out of My Dreams”  which features some nice tenor sax on the part  of John Mills and some nice jazz violin by Jason Roberts. This song starts off  with a slow and bluesy introduction  before kicking it into a high gear.  The melody is actually a bit more cheerful than the lyrics would indicate.

Stay out of my dreams
I pray that you do
Cause when you’re in my dreams
It leaves me awfully blue.

Why must you haunt me?
Your memories taunt me
You don’t even want me,
Stay out of my dreams.

 

I hope Suzy returns to this genre for a future album. Unfortunately real jazz (as opposed to the Kenny G variety) doesn’t sell that well these days – even Grammy winning albums sell in relatively small numbers. That’s not surprising, since real jazz demands more of the listener than most other genres of music and demands more of the musician, too. Swing received considerable critical acclaim but sold poorly, but it remains one of my two favorite Suzy Bogguss albums.

Grade:  A

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