By the time Ken Swartz gets to his Neil Young cover—track 11, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” for those Luddites who still listen to albums in order—it’s about as anti-climactic a near-ending as these things get.
That’s because, right from the opening original “Hot Down There,” this local singer-songwriter has Young’s delicate, warbling, damaged brand of romanticism down pat, not to mention that of his stylistic followers like Grant Lee Buffalo and Mercury Rev.
As his fans from Frenchmen Street already know, Swartz spends a lot of time bending other folks’ songs to his quietly introspective pastiche of soul, blues and folk.
That goes for Eric Lindell’s “Lay Back Down” as well as Bob Marley’s “Baby, We’ve Got a Date” and Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue.”
It’s subtly seductive bordering on fascinating, but Swartz also spends the full middle third of his latest reminding those fans he’s a blues artist at heart. He’s good at it, mind you: he knows enough to cover Blind Blake and to hot-wire several different versions of “Corrina, Corrina” into his own, and he picks Delta blues just fine.
Yet, it all seems somewhat fabricated next to his usual persona, and whatever it’s doing to Snooks Eaglin’s “Country Boy” and, in the album’s most transformative moment, sucking all of the faux-Beatles whimsy out of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “Ode to John and Yoko.”
Authenticity can be a stumbling block, sometimes.