She Swings, She Sways is a six piece band. Between them, they can top the usual drums and bass with twin acoustic guitars plus electric guitar and piano. Or acoustic guitar with two electric guitars and trumpet. They can add in a mandolin or harmonica. And guests on the album bring fiddle, pedal steel, and French horn into the mix. The bass player plays a stand up bass, but sometimes he bows it instead of the usual plucking. So She Swings, She Sways can use a lot of different musical textures. They do so, but with great subtlety, and the whole thing holds together beautifully. But Wasted Love Songs is an album that rewards repeated listens, because there is so much going on musically. Some songs are mostly acoustic, while others rock out. Sometimes both things happen in the same song. There is even the occasional waltz.
John Gordon is the main songwriter and lead vocalist. He manages all of this beautifully. The pacing of the album allows for the building and release of dramatic tension, both within the individual songs, and in their sequencing.
And what could be more dramatic than love? On the back cover of the album, each of the eleven songs is dedicated to a different woman. The album opens with a declaration of love, What I Wouldn’t Do, and closes with an apology for all the wrongs committed in a relationship, Even So. In between, Gordon takes us on a journey through the adventures that relationships can be. Gordon is a brave narrator, taking on some difficult subjects with delicacy, but also with honesty. He Loves Me depicts a woman who seeks a white knight to rescue her from an abusive relationship. In Ryan’s Song, a woman must decide whether to try to make a relationship with a drug addict work; there are hints that he may be in recovery by the end of the song. But I was most impressed with Evelyn’s Green and Highway.
In Evelyn’s Green, a man offers comfort to a woman who is dying of an unnamed disease. It is clear that the narrator knows she will not recover, but he lies to her about the seriousness of the situation. Perhaps he lies to himself, in hopes that it will be true. The listener must decide whether to forgive this man for his false assurances. It is clear, however, that he does it to try to comfort the woman he genuinely loves.
Highway gives us a young American on a brief visit to Ireland. He has read in Chaucer and Kerouac about sexual liasons that always seem to result in great pleasure for both parties. Sure enough, he meets a young woman, and they wind up sleeping together. It is necessary for John Gordon to describe the sex scene. He does this discreetly but effectively, but we know that it goes badly. And the narrator must leave for home the next day, so there is no time for him to make it right. The kicker is that he is telling all of this to the young woman’s brother. Is this a final gesture of apology?
So here is a collection of three or four minute songs with rich musical textures and emotional complexity that I would expect to find in a much longer work. Either way, as I said earlier, Wasted Love Songs is an album that offers great rewards for repeated listens. That is a rare thing, to be treasured.
She Swings, She Sways: Evelyn‘s Green
She Swings, She Sways: Highway