Diversity – of ethnicity, geography, personal history and songwriting style – is a hallmark of Americana music. All are allowed into this tent, provided they can tell a story. But plenty of artists couldn’t wait for the world to open up and grow up. Jerry Williams has been making and performing music for more than seven decades. In 1970, he adopted the stage name Swamp Dogg and started recording his music on his own terms. Now, at age 77, his latest release, Sorry You Couldn’t Make It, gives us a guest star-filled album of his version of country and R&B.
The album leads off with an organ and a gospel feel before “Sleeping Without You is a Dragg” reveals itself a plea to a lover who’s left – “Everybody goes home to somebody/That’s how I know I’m not winning.” An excellent trio of vocalists (Jenny Lewis, Mina Moore and Polica’s Channy Leaneagh) back up Swamp’s sadness as he bemoans his inability to move on: “My conscience wouldn’t let me live it down/If I were guilty of being untrue.”
The album’s fourth cut, “Family Pain,” really brings out the Swamp in Dogg’s name. Amongst the fiddle (via Sam Amidon) and great guitar work (from Jim Oblon and Justin Vernon), Dogg tells of a family torn apart by drugs – “They all goin’ out together/Smokin’ crack and dealin’ cocaine.” Guitar and fiddle trade off in controlled chaos as Dogg, speaking plainly now, charts the family’s chosen demise: “Bad one always drag in the good one/Good one thinks he can make the bad one good.”
Swamp Dogg has a keen ear for guest help. Lewis, Moore and Leaneagh show up again in “I’d Rather Be Your Used To Be,” Dogg’s unsentimental kiss-off to a problematic partner. The music drives under as he verbally drives over his ex – “I guess now you play with someone else’s heart/May he turn the tables and tear yours apart” (Swamp ain’t got time for subtlety).
And, in these troubled times, few things bring a smile to one’s face more quickly than a John Prine appearance. On Sorry You Couldn’t Make It, you get two. “Memories” brings recollections both sweet and sad as though they’re photographs – “My memory develops them/When you’re not in sight,” and the audio at the end of the track crackles, distorts and fades, as an old Polaroid might.
Finally, “Please Let Me Go Round Again” is a song that Swamp originally wrote in his 40s, but the idea of one more chance to make things right – “I’ll build a better mouse trap from a far more better plan” seems more apropos at age 77. Williams and Prine gently trade regrets at the end of the record, and the gentlemen’s combined 150 years of Earthly oopsies, along with Prine’s trademark chuckle, remind us that maybe our own problems aren’t quite so bad.
Sorry You Couldn’t Make It was produced by Ryan Olson, engineered by Mark Nevers and Zack Pancoast, mixed by Nevers and mastered by Bob Weston. Additional musicians include Derrick Lee (keys), Chris Beirden (bass), Justin Vernon (piano, vocals), Moogstar (synth, congas), Carmen Camerei (horns), Jake Hanson (guitar), Alistair Sung (cello), and Leona Leshon, Carmen Marks, Sherron Crenshaw, Taj’ London, Harry Watkins and Courtland Williams (vocals).
You can order Sorry You Couldn’t Make It at https://music.apple.com/us/artist/swamp-dogg/193507434?app=music&mt=1
Check here to see Swamp Dogg live: https://www.bandsintown.com/a/369291?affil_code=js_www.chromaticpr.com&app_id=js_www.chromaticpr.com&came_from=242&trigger=track&utm_campaign=track&utm_medium=web&utm_source=widget