Monday, November 3, 2014

“SOS” by Swallow and the Wolf – A Song Review

     Soundcloud allows artists to attach descriptors when they upload a song. Most bands will select multiple descriptors, including an indication of the genre. The descriptors set expectations of new listeners. For example, when a duo selects “acoustic” as the only designator, it is fair to assume that the song is suitable for performance in a small setting without significant processing effects or features that draw the focus away from the vocals and low intensity instrument play. WRONG!
     “SOS” by Swallow and the Wolf starts out simple enough – just vocals and a piano. The song wanders from our expectations of “acoustic” prior to the 2:36 mark, but the wandering is over a short distance, until the string instrument ups the intensity and then the tribal drum completely destroys all thoughts of a simple performance in a small setting.  

    The members of Swallow and the Wolf are Russell Swallow (acoustic guitar and vocals) and Jessica Kennedy (piano and vocals). For us, the most attractive feature of “SOS” is the variety in the interplay between the male and female vocals. At different times, Jessica’s voice:
     1. Joins with Russell’s for only the completion of a sentence (at 1:18, “If you had a window into people’s souls, would you stop and stare, [Jessica joins] or would you turn away?
      2. Joins with Russell’s in traditional harmonization (at 1:47, “Give me one thing…”), and
     3. Goes to lyrics different than those of Russell, achieving some powerful vocal layering (at 2:02, when Jessica sings about her heart being able to take only so much, while Russell demands that the longing be taken from him). 

     “SOS” by Swallow and the Wolf


     Because it’s merely a substitution of one type of bird for another (from "swallow" in a band name to "sparrow" in a song title), “SOS” reminded us of a song by James Vincent McMorrow. A few years ago, McMorrow released “Sparrow and the Wolf.” It’s our favorite by this Irish singer/songwriter.

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