The Swigs: Johnson Family Values (CD), The Grapevine, Reykjavik, Iceland. “Interesting little platter here. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill record. It’s a strange hybrid of indie and classic rock that satisfies on many levels… (read more)
The Swigs in 2010 gave us a more than useful debut in Let it Come Down, and now they push the envelope further towards the perfect LP.
“Johnson Family Values” (what that has to do with Johnson and Johnson, only the gentlemen know) serves up once again the unmistakable distinctive guitar sound of Chief Kevin Henderson, who charges anywhere in between Mountain, Led Zeppelin, and Thin Lizzy. The whole thing is supported by the exquisite bass lines of bassist Eric Snyder, rounded out by Mike Troupe at the shooting gallery.
The guys present here a good mix of original compositions, which mix a fine blend of 60s riffs and 70s punk attitude (“Transmissions”, “Raw Little Animal”, the instrumental “Wasted Waitress Waltz”), and covers of, shall we say, obscure numbers by better-known groups –such as “Let Me Sleep Beside You” by David Bowie, “Downtown Lucy” ahead of the Stones and all the ’97 single “Alone,” the inimitable Bee Gees — all of the songs are given an original Swigs Makeover, the latter appearing to demonstrate that the Gibb brothers can still pull viable melodies out of a hat. As a special treat, “Omas Ludvig” is a Swigs-ified version of a Swedish folk song.
It is produced through the dedication of Master Henderson (who wrote us a handwritten letter, very attentive!) to 100% Analog 16-track tape, which makes for a very authentic sound. Guest musicians round out the presentation, including Vicky Brown (electric violin) and the Local Heroes Tucson Silver Thread Trio as backing vocals gear.
For purists, there’s the whole thing as 140g vinyl – mandatory for all who are serious about the 70′s flair. Just fine for this fraction.
Not only beautiful hand-written inserts, but also a fine example of an actual long-playing (and here indeed the word is “finally”!) brings us to Swigs Mastermind Kevin Henderson.
So we naturally like appreciating the beautifully made LP, that gives all vinyl lovers and purists the possibility of an original 70′s phono-experience. The fact that vinyl is a completely different sound experience from CDs or botched mp3s has finally got round to audio gourmets, and “Johnson Family Values is no exception. It sounds finely balanced and warm from your speakers, and the production comes through much better than on the CD. If there’s a fly in the soup, it’s only the lack of a complete lyrics sheet, but then, one can’t have everything, and in this LP, one has almost everything.
[We didn't print the lyrics to the cover songs for various legal reasons; the lyrics to the originals are on the LP insert. -- KH]
The Swigs’ impressive 2010 debut, Let It Come Down, boasted virtuoso playing, well-crafted tunes and a driving energy. But the Tucson rock trio has topped that record by going epic with this audacious sophomore release.
Produced by guitarist-singer-songwriter Kevin Henderson and engineer extraordinaire Nathan Sabatino at Loveland Studio, Johnson Family Values was recorded in analog, giving it a rich, warm and immediate sound. On most of the tunes, Henderson accomplishes the estimable task of creating a unique guitar sound: His nimble leads hint at what Chet Atkins or Sandy Bull might have sounded like playing with Mountain or Thin Lizzy. Dynamic support for such six-string excursions is essential, and Henderson gets it from bassist Eric Snyder and drummer Mike Troupe.
Originals such as “Transmissions,” “Raw Little Animal” and the extended shredding of the instrumental “Wasted Waitress Waltz” are infused with a DIY punk momentum, classic-rock melodies and tight grooves.
Also earning respect here are The Swigs’ interpretations of obscure material by classic artists. The band brings shambling garage-glam charm to David Bowie’s “Let Me Sleep Beside You,” with fierce electric violin by Vicki Brown, and the Rolling Stones’ “Downtown Lucy,” with sassy backing vocals by the Silver Thread Trio. And the Bee Gees’ 1997 single “Alone” gets a radical overhaul and becomes an utterly beguiling example of guitar-based power-pop.
Fish Karma’s JFV Review, 6/2011
The Swigs’ new album, “Johnson Family Values,” is a both a sonic caress and a (consensual) audio assault, a collection of new music that somehow evokes a sense of marrow-deep recognition. (There is no need to stand on ceremony; this music and your DNA have already been formally introduced.) The subject matter of the songs involves matters sensual and subatomic, paranoid and preternatural. The astonishing version of David Bowie’s “Let Me Sleep Beside You” is one of the most earnest and note-perfect invocations of love and yearning I’ve heard since Brian Wilson’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”, and lies in perfect counterpoint to “Raw Little Animal,” a celebration of carnality that repeatedly slams the listener’s head against the headboard of his or her listening experience. (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)
And what can I say about “Wasted Waitress Waltz,” other than it is an exquisite evocation of the distilled pleasures and pain associated with working in the service industry? Listening to the song evokes an out-of-body experience; you are the waitress, lurching drunkenly through the unspeakably hot desert night, feet aching, exhausted and yet unable to sleep, your pockets filled with moist dollar bills left reluctantly by customers enveloped in swaddling layers of fat and grease, who watch with bloodshot eyes and insatiable need as you maneuver with unwieldy dishes and trays through aisles that seem to contract and constrict whenever you stop you pour yet another cup of coffee…The musicians are great. The singing is great. The songs are great. Buy this album, damnit!
Fresh off the 2010 release of Let It Come Down, The Swigs are reconfigured with two new members creating a dynamic trio smoking more powerfully than ever. With guitar genius madman Kevin Henderson at its core, The Swigs are releasing Johnson Family Values. Mark your calendar for the May 20 CD release.
This eight track, sprawling, seductive piece of propulsive rock orchestration grabbed my ear, pushed me, energized me and got my living room cleaned. Henderson on electric and acoustic guitars, Eric Snyder on bass, and Mike Troupe on percussion know exactly where they are going, and it’s fast and furious. This is progressive rock meets sixties rock & roll meets The Swigs.
From telling the voices in his head to get lost (Transmissions) to channeling David Bowie a la 1967 (Let Me Sleep Beside You), and transforming Alone by the Bee Gees, Henderson has his vocal chops up.
Following The Swig-arranged Swedish traditional tune Amos Ludwig (turned upside and rocked out) the trio let their Stones loose with Downtown Lucy, and it is so so juicy! Joined by Silver Thread Trio, Henderson said recording it was like some sort of “Motown session, they really did their homework.”
Recorded and co-produced by Nathan Sabatino at Loveland Studios, the album was done old school style: analog on two-inch, 16 track tape over a period of three to four weeks and sounds great. It will be released on both CD and vinyl; record buyers will also get a digital copy of the tracks.
Henderson’s immense freaky guitar talent, and with right-in-the-pocket leveling rhythms from percussionist Troupe and bassist Eric Snyder, the sky’s the limit for these guys. I can’t wait to see this live
I really am enjoying listening to the new album by Tucson’s The Swigs, called “Johnson Family Values”. The focus of this album is really on creating a certain ’70′s-era band sound, with lots of lead guitar noodling (with a variety of effects pedals), combined with virtuoso musicianship. But it also goes beyond those initial models, by doing remakes of classic songs by Bowe, the Bee Gees, and the Rolling Stones, that (in my opinion) surpass the originals.
The eight songs are evenly divided between covers and originals. It’s really nice to hear solid musicianship, and it’s nice to hear such loving tribute given to the hard rock bands of the ’70′s. Listening to this album, I’m hearing shades of some of my favorite ball-yankin’ rock n’ roll bands, such as Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy — but it’s done with respect. There was a time when whenever anyone quoted a ’70′s-era hard rock band, it was for comedic effect. The Swigs play straight-ahead 70′s-inspired rock n’ roll, without irony, and it sounds great.
The first track, an original tune called “Transmissions”, starts out with a punk sound ala The Saints or Thin Lizzie, and then goes into a musical jam that contains a keyboard riff that sounds right out of Deep Purple, Hammond organ and all. This is followed by a cover of David Bowie’s “Let Me Sleep Beside You”, although the Swigs turn Bowie’s 1967-era bubbly pop song into a psychedelic distortion-filled rocker, sounding a little like Free.
Next is another original tune, “Raw Little Animal”, which has a funky ball-yankin’ sound reminiscent of Aerosmith, but at the chorus, has a sound reminiscent of the layered guitars of Rush. This is also a great showcase piece for Kevin’s virtuoso guitar noodling, which is a central part of the Swig’s sound.
The fourth song, “Alone”, is a Bee Gee’s cover. When the Bee Gee’s did this, it was slow paced syrupy pop (that sounded like overproduced Beach Boys in places), but after the Swigs have their way with it, it sounds more like The Clash in their early years. Just as they did with David Bowie’s “Let Me Sleep With You”, the Swigs take a a sweet lush pop song and turn it into a rock grunge anthem by speeding up the tempo and adding layers of guitar fuzz. Personally, I prefer The Swigs versions of both of those songs just mentioned, because they give them more grunge and earthiness.
The fifth song, an instrumental called “Omas Ludvig”, is a showcase piece for the band, especially for Kevin Henderson’s guitar work. The bass and drums do a great job holding the song together. The drummer (Mike Troupe) is a great drummer; he know all kinds of of rock licks that sound just right, and Eric Snyder does a fine job on the bass.
“Downtown Lucy” (the 6th song here) is one of my favorite cuts. Just as with the Bowie cover, and the Bee Gees cover, the Swigs do it again! They take an old Rolling Stones song (from their “Metamorphosis” album) and actually improve it! The original has a down-home lazy feel, with the Stones all singing along to a single acoustic slide guitar (before launching into a rock jam). The Swigs turn it into something that sounds like T-Rex playing through a stack of Marshall amps.
“Fire Ants” is another instrumental, written by bassist Eric Snyder. Starts out sounding like Hendrix on “Voodoo Child”, but then goes into an extended jam that sounds like U2 playing Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun”, with the chorus sounding like the wall-of-guitars sound of Rush. At least that’s the best way I can describe it. You can get lost in the layers of sonic texture. Pure pleasure!
The last song on the album, “Wasted Waitress Waltz” is another showcase piece for the band. First of all, it’s not a waltz. Second, this song features a lot of frenetic strumming combined with effects pedals, along with driving drums and frentic bass. This song is instrumental, and everyone in the band shines.
What I really like about The Swigs is that their sound is firmly rooted in the sounds of classic hard rock; they’ve got a sense of roots. I also like they value musicianship, as is evidenced by the number of instrumental numbers on the album. They embrace the bands and sounds that punkers outright rejected a few years later (with the advent of quirk pop and punk sounds of “New Wave”), making making them sound fresh and interesting again. “Johnson Family Values” is an album that grows on you. There’s no bad cut on the album. There are musical layers that keep it always interesting to listen to. They did a really great job on this disc, and I look forward to seeing them next time they play a gig.
“Johnson Family Values”: a great album from The Swigs!!
The Possibles, a sublime four-piece desert-rock outfit, conjure up images of shifting organic landscapes with songs expressing immutable truths about the human condition. Sometimes moody and poppy, and always endearing and engaging, their music provided the perfect backdrop for drinking a couple of cold ones after a long week.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Cyril Barrett has a gentleness in his voice that is imbued with blue-collar wisdom. Case in point was the song “Truth or Consequences,” a melodic, poignant, beach-ready tune. Guitarist Tom Moore took the lead on the vocals for the song “I Confess,” and Laura Kepner-Adney swooped in to harmonize midway through, arriving fashionably late to a welcoming and applauding audience. Brian Green, a prolific bass player in the Tucson music scene, turns subtlety into a major strength, and, along with drummer Brian Kessler, formed the ideal rhythmic foundation for the band. Their sound is an homage to the desert, while flirting with the idea of hitching a ride on the railroad in order to dip a foot into the ocean.
The Swigs, celebrating the release of their new Johnson Family Values, are a trio consisting of seasoned musicians having more fun than should be allowed by law. People who were sitting outside quickly jumped up to see what was happening inside Sky Bar when the band took the stage. The gravitational pull was provided courtesy of frontman Kevin Henderson’s blistering guitar work. Concert-goer Cia Romano noted that Henderson has the combined stage presence of Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. At times, the lyrics acted as window-dressing, enticing you to stay and listen to the rip-roaring guitar work to follow.
Henderson’s frenetic style on the fret board was grounded by the incredible rhythm section: Bass-player-extraordinaire Eric Snyder and outstanding drummer Mike Troupe provided a solid platform for Henderson to go all-out. Their original songs are a delicious mix of smokin’ 1960s guitar riffs and the progressive and punk edges of the 1970s, tinted by the palpable shift that entered the sphere when grunge ousted hair metal as the reigning youth culture subgenre.
I’m shocked that Henderson’s fret board didn’t need to be hosed down after that 70-minute-plus performance. It was a display of some damn fine rock ‘n’ roll.
I’ll chalk it up to cosmic synchronicity. The Great Mystery must have given a wink and a nod when I was re-reading Tom Robbins in the same temporal space as listening to The Swigs.
An interview with singer/guitarist Kevin Henderson rang with the themes in Robbins’ Wild Ducks Flying Backwards. Like peanut butter and chocolate, The Swigs and Robbins’ are the delicious music and literary equivalent of those mouth watering chocolate-covered cups. Though I’m not sure who’s the peanut butter and who’s the chocolate. Both are robust with talent, accessible while speaking deep truths, and simply make people feel better about being alive.
Astute minds, listen up, and they will take you on a joy ride of ideas. Henderson makes it clear that there will be ramblings, stream of consciousness rants and overall detours throughout the interview. There are and it’s fun. For example:
“Tucson attracts artistic, freaky people and we have a really neat scene now, I think. The Swigs sort of start in 2006, I had all these solo records and all this material and I wanted a band to do it with.
“The Hut starts, The Hut changed, Stu gets in charge and starts booking things and it turns from this cool bar into a place where they would have all these different kinds of bands. And the Red Room – we used it on the cover – it is also important, because – if you are a musician, all roads lead through the Red Room. You’re going to play there, everyone can play there once. A bunch of different musicians come to town, and all these musicians from outside come here and they see the opportunities that maybe those of us here didn’t see. So it’s been several years now of that. And, like the group of people we put together for Spillapalooza, it’s quite a pool of talent to draw from and I haven’t really experienced that since the punk scene days of the 80s.”
Henderson speaks with genuine love for Tucson’s thriving scene of creative illuminati, a core of downtown residents and regulars who all seem to possess gobs of talent in various mediums. In Tucson, one isn’t just a guitar player or poet. They are both and can also play three more instruments, write novels, paint, sculpt and can hold their own in the fields of science, history, astronomy and world affairs. It’s not much of an exaggeration. Beyond the talent, however, is a spiritual undercurrent that translates in kindness, joy and rising up in spite of the terrible truths.
“We’re willing to explore good places and dark and painful places, but we don’t want to wallow there. It’s about transformation and exploring the dark side of sex, drugs and rock & roll, and then to transform and bring out of it and heal and elevate ourselves and the listener. I hear a lot of singer/songwriter stuff these days and it’s about sharing misery. And we’ll explore those places but it’s about exploring them to heal them or do something positive.”
Music is healing, and The Swigs are transcendent.
Press for “Let it Come Down” (2010)
In an age where technology has yielded a substantial measure of control back to musicians, artists well outside the entertainment mainstream, indeed, right here in Arizona, continue to produce an impressive amount of high-quality original music, written, recorded and released locally. Musically, the desert has blossomed into an oasis.
Out of that oasis, by way of Tucson emerges singer, songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Kevin Henderson and his band, the Swigs (Mark Witt, bass; Blaine Rybke, drums). Swinging a manic axe, Henderson slashes and burns a wide open path for his sidemen to gamely follow on their 2010 release, “Let it Come Down” (Sapient Records), recorded at Loveland Studio in Tucson and mastered in Phoenix. “Let it Come Down” features brilliantly bright, alternately intricate and aggressive fretwork by Henderson and equally inspired playing by Witt and Rybke. The results are a sound and feel that evokes Led Zeppelin, Bad Finger, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Black Sabbath with rich Celtic undertones.
The opening title track sets the tone for this CD and puts the listener on notice: there will be no downtime for one to catch their breath until this disk is over, so keep up. The funky guitar intro on “…Come Down” quickly gives way to a tastily timed crunch riff that would make Jimmy Page smile. “Freak Flag” is another powerhouse track will leave one powerless against the urge to head bob and hip shake. Tracks like “Ploughed in the Stars”, “Imaginary Western I” & “Imaginary Western II” rate as epic.
It’s been a while since Kevin Henderson has played in Bisbee. Perhaps that will change as he sets out to introduce “Let it Come Down” and his previous music to a wider audience throughout the state and beyond, waving the banner for the talented ‘desert musicians’ who thrive outside the mainstream.