Duo Swift Silver Brings Rural, Stirring R&B, Southern Soul & Gospel on S/T Debut (ALBUM REVIEW)

Swift Silver is the former bluegrass duo of Anna Kline and John Looney, Grits & Soul, who have transformed their sound into a stirring concoction of southern R&B, soul, and gospel; thereby changing their band name in the process. The couple, Anna, originally from Mississippi; and John, raised in Mt. Sterling, KY where they now are based, have been collaborating for a decade now. The deeply southern aspect of their music is evident from the opening “Belleville Blues” through to “Ain’t Wrecked Yet,” nine tunes of which eight are originals. The lone cover is a searing take on the Carter Stanley classic “The Fields Have Turned Brown.” Kline takes most vocal leads with support from Looney who also handles the lead guitar. Joining them are Kenny Miles (baritone guitar, bass, organ, harmony vocals), Hayden Miles (drums, keys), and guest Chris Justice (Wayne Graham, John R. Miller) bass on “Looking Back.”  Note the absence of conventional bluegrass instruments. Instead, we get plenty of bluesy Memphis licks from Looney, “Looking Back” being a stellar example.

Nonetheless, the major draw is the emotive, soaring vocals of Kline, reminiscent of Patty Loveless’ passion, if not her voice, on her indelible Mountain Soul album.  She comes out wailing on the opening mid-tempo “Belleville Blues, brings in down a notch for the pure southern soul of the cheating song “We’ve Given Up on Us” while “Tonight, Forever Yours” plays as a Gram Parsons-like country waltz, spiced by Hayden Miles’ spot-on piano.  

As strong as these are, we move to the salient portion of the album in the next three tracks. The fuzzed-out Texas blues guitar of Looney plays counterpoint to Kline’s searing vocal on the personal “Come On Home to Yourself,” invoking both her birth state and the famous river of the same name, drawing a parallel between the river’s insistence on its own path with her defiant independence.  “Fields Have Turned Brown” is a poignant, tremolo-filled ode to their bluegrass beginnings featuring Looney on vocal lead with KIine harmonizing powerfully, as Looney cuts loose with stunning guitar work. “Blackbird’s Refrain” takes strains of the Beatles song and colors them with Looney’s slicing slide guitar and lyrics that suggest more contemporary matters.

They turn reflective for the last two selections. For example, “We All Get Our Turn” has the lyrics, “We all get our turn…To be young and grow old…Asphalt or gravel…No, it don’t matter…How you got here, the road you traveled…Ask yourself who is your master? Is this the life you’ve been chasing after?”  The following “Ain’t Wrecked Yet” is a ballad, revealing more of the nuances of Kline’s expressive voice, which speaks to release from the confines of the pandemic with not only heartfelt passion but with well-crafted lyrics too.

This is a keeper. Out of seemingly nowhere, we have one of the strongest and most memorable roots albums of the year to date.

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