June Album Of The Month
2019 has been the toughest year yet when it comes to me picking just one album to review each month. May and June see so many great and varied albums being released. Set against some well-produced and well-promoted albums, for June I’ve decided to go with a relative underdog. The return of The Swamp Born Assassins may not prove to be a hit with the commercial media machine – but their return warrants attention and support.
I first stumbled across the band in late 2016 and then met them at Wildfire Festival in June 2017. They felt no sense of entitlement to open the main stage, if anything they were genuinely humbled by the invitation. Also, in the months leading up to Wildfire, they seemed a bit taken aback by their ‘Gator Hole’ airtime on my Friday show and the grassroots support from listeners that followed. The band has been on a journey with its challenges and my first memories of the band was that they seemed to lack confidence in a music industry that is both changing and also, to many grassroots acts, seems ever-elusive on how to get ‘inside the circle.’
Forward-wind two years and the new Swamp Born Assassins album is a triumph in belief, in carrying on – and, perhaps most important, in the band enjoying their music. They are doing things the way they want to do it and not pandering to the temptation of trying to be hip, current or sound like everyone else.
In this new collection of songs, we have harmonica and organ-drenched blues rock. It has a very classic feel but the album has a raw edge. It’s natural, it’s alive and – most important – it’s the sound of a band having fun doing what they love. The opener ‘Dead Man’s Train’ introduces the album with a bit of Meat Loaf-esque drama about it. The music opens up as pacey, muscular and it captures the character of the band concisely in just four minutes. Nice anthem-rich classic rock solos are worked in and they become a feature of the album at large.
The music is direct – energetic rock & roll you’ll want to shuffle or dance to. Creatively the band is not breaking genre boundaries here, but what they do in spades is to bring a nice helping of uplifting rock & roll escapism to make your day a bit better.
‘Blot Out The Sun’ follows with barking vocals like a frenzied preacher. Musically, it’s a classic blues standard, but with a contemporary message – “if we don’t join hands, we chose to blot out the sun.” There’s an urgency and a call to arms here that gives the song weight.
‘Weeping Tree’ I premiered an early mix of and then the final song a few months ago. It continues in the vein of the openers but has an arresting groove that after a few plays will get its hooks firmly into you. A song with an intense mood – and one to listen to loud with the lights low.
‘Better Off Dead’ offers some classic 70’s rock, conjuring up gothic images of dark vampires and bats. I’m not fully convinced by the vocal effects on this one, but the powerful guitar menace carries this song. ‘Sharp Shot Johnny’ is great fun – a song with a Quireboys/Stones vibe. It’s a lighter song with a distinctly British rock n roll blues feel. A song that could work for radio – and a song with a good narrative.
‘Shotgun Shells And Whiskey’ is a bit of a hybrid. It’s southern rock but there’s a hint of a punk there too – and a taste of Scotland thrown in for good measure. As with many of the songs of this album, there is a pervasive sense of theatre behind this music: there is drama to the music, stories being told and it is written to be performed – and understood – as part of a show. For bands that just write singles for radio or streaming sites, there’s something to be learned by the spirit behind this – at times – raw, direct music of the Swamp Borns.
‘Rise Up’ opens the Scottish heartbeat of the album. This one is a rally cry and, at times of spin, uncertainty and division, we once again need rock to testify. This song needs no over-elaboration. The message is clear – the music is unashamedly direct. The bagpipes that close the song lead us into a second helping of Scottish pride on this album with ‘Run To The Wildfire’ – inspired by the band’s appearance at Wildfire 2017 and one of the first bands to join our full-day ‘Spirit of Wildfire’ broadcast in June 2018.
For a band to write in such a thoughtful way about a festival that gave them a break says a lot about the character of the band and – as with all music – it’s the character of the people that frame the truth and the authenticity of the music that follows. ‘Run To The Wildfire’ enjoys a new mix for this album and it positively sparkles. A song also dedicated to all the music fans that kept the faith in Wildfire between June 2018 and June 2019. The album closes with the dark, brooding ‘Madness Of His Reverence.’ In some ways the album ends too quickly – but I guess that’s the magic. Time to play it again; time to get back on ‘Dead Man’s Train.’
The Swamp Born Assassins have done it the hard way but their return underlines the importance of bands believing in themselves. For some, the new album won’t have the formula values for these tunes to be the darlings of big playlists. But this makes the band’s contribution to the rock scene this month all the more important. Swamp Born Assassins are true to who they are, they are passionate about putting on a show – and this new album gives them the material to light up stages for many months to come.
‘Dead Man’s Train’ is released 1 June
Discover more about Swamp Born Assassins at http://swampbornassassins.com