The name Richard Swift may not ring a bell for most music fans, but many have heard Swift albeit without knowing it. Swift played with well-known bands like The Shins, The Black Keys and The Arcs, and helped produce and record many more. In between touring and producing over the past several years, Swift had also been working on songs for his latest release, The Hex. Combining vintage pop, R&B, Soul with rock ‘n roll, Swift managed to complete the album shortly before his death this past July due to alcoholism.
The title tracks gives the listener a taste of what the rest of the album will sound like. Swift sings a falsetto melody over a track that sounds like it could have come from any Phil Spector-produced band from the sixties. “Broken Finger Blues” is definitely one of the standout tracks on the album. Fuzzed out guitars play melodies which complement Swift’s vocals and seem to mimic Al Green. “Dirty Jim” has a swinging guitar riff that instantly brings to mind The Band and Harry Nilsson. The upbeat music deceptively hides the more sinister lyrics that allude to substance abuse. A few of the songs seem a bit out of place in the middle of the album. “Babylon”, with its distracting background sirens, and “Wendy”, with its “doo-run-run” refrains create a bit of annoyance on an otherwise solid album. These detractors are immediately redeemed when the reverb guitars kick in on “Sister Song” and deliver a solid psych-rock meets soul track. As if in tribute to the late Dave Bowie, Swift’s vocals on “Nancy” sound almost on par with The Starman himself. After the chilled out instrumental, “HZLWD”, the distorted vocals and instruments of “Kensington!” seem pretty out of place with its spoken word story lyrics. Luckily, the album closes with the soft, piano driven “Sept20”, which brings to mind the Icelandic band Leaves.
Considering that The Hex was worked on over a period of a few years, most of which found Swift working with other bands, it is understandable why there doesn’t seem to be much cohesion on the album. While most tracks are solid, tracks that could’ve been omitted detract from an otherwise great album. At its best, it reminds the listener of Sam Cooke and David Bowie, but at its worst, it sounds like Fitz and The Tantrums.
Photo credit: Racel Demy