Recorded in Nashville during an extended stay there, Emma Swift’s debut mini album has received widespread media praise and has been supported by extensive touring including shows with Kasey Chambers and appearances at the upcoming Out On The Weekend festivals. Produced by long-term Nashville resident Anne McCue, Swift’s self-titled release features a collection of A-team Nashville session pickers and showcases her rapid growth as a song writer and singer. During the year Swift has performed extensively in both Australia and America. In between these activities Swift broadcasts weekly on Double J radio as well as commentating on all things twang for a variety of other outlets.
Flaxen of hair, soul-tough and pretty as a diamond, with a tear in her voice filtered through ’70s mariachi static, Emma Swift’s music hearkens back to the golden age of music when singers sang your life back to you. It is a voice of pure heartbreak, delivering songs that are equal parts heart-worn and careworn, modern, insouciant, witty and feminist.
Songbird, radio broadcaster and professional wanderer, it was a move from Sydney to Nashville that prompted Emma to make her solo debut.
“I left Australia with two suitcases, three pairs of cowboy boots and enough vinyl to make sure the first piece of furniture I bought when I arrived in Tennessee was a record player. I went in search of songs, in search of kindred spirits, in search of mythical honky tonks and late-night picking parties. I went with a dream no bigger than to find a place where music might matter as much to the town as it does to me,” says Swift.
One of Australia’s finest sad-song-singers, Emma’s voice has always required the kind of backing that would do it justice, and thanks to Nashville-based Australian expat Anne McCue and a cast of A-team Nashville session pickers, Swift’s songs have been wrought from (pedal) steel and amber, turquoise and honey.
“Annie knew exactly what I needed from a band, and pulled together a group of guys who immediately understood me, my voice and the mix of loneliness, desire and longing embedded in the songs.”
The mini-album features Bryan Owings (Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, Iris Dement, Patty Griffin) on drums, Russ Pahl (John Hiatt, The Secret Sisters, Elton John) on pedal steel, James Haggerty (The Autumn Defense, Ruby Boots) on bass.
Opener ‘Bittersweet’ is of the type that once sold albums and singles by the millions, a heartbreaker to make one yearn for whiskey, a jukebox and a handful of dollar coins.
‘King of America’ sees Swift leaning hard, unashamedly even on the bluesy turn in her throat, with enough grit and power to have Loretta Lynn raising an eyebrow.
Swift wraps her golden voice around ‘James’, a true sad song of the kind that – like waltzes – once had Willie Nelson wondering if there was any reason to keep writing them. Of course, her treatment of the lyric leaves the listener in no doubt that she’s hurting.
‘Seasons’, a staple of Swift’s live set for years sounds like it belongs on a beat up AM radio some summer long ago.
The songs are imbued with an easy smile, vulnerability and toughness calling to mind artists like Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Tammy Wynette, Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, or Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies.
After two years in Nashville, Emma Swift has returned to Australia, where she is happy to find a home on the Laughing Outlaw Records label as well as at triple j’s new digital station, Double J, where she hosts ‘Revelator’, a weekly specialist music program dedicated to playing Americana, alternative country and folk tunes to a national audience.
“I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t still living out of those same suitcases,” she says.
“But I’m happy to have returned home for a heartbeat, to be making music and making radio and sharing my love of bittersweet melodies, lonesome lyrics and endless pedal steel.”