Suzy Bogguss was a full-fledged country music star in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, showing up at her concerts complete with shiny white cowgirl boots and fringed mini-skirts. But Suzy always had a bit of an edge—how many other female country stars (save Rosanne Cash, who bolted Music City more than a decade ago) would tackle a song like John Hiatt’s edgy “Drive South”?
While Bogguss had her string of radio-friendly country hits—including “Outbound Plane”, “Aces”, and “Hey Cinderella”—she never seem to quite fit the Nashville cookie-cutter mold and by the mid-90s her career had cooled substantially.
But Suzy soldiered on, releasing two well received on her own label. Until now, things didn’t seem to quite jell. With Swing, they have.
While her foray into swing-era pop standards and jazz tunes, Swing, might seem a radical departure from her Nashville hit-making days, in reality it more of a return to her roots. In fact, the 46-year-old singer (who got her big break performing at Dollywood in Tennessee before she scored a record contract) grew up in Illinois and was weaned on the classics she covers on this dazzling little record.
Co-produced by Bogguss and longtime friend Ray Benson (of Asleep at the Wheel fame), Swing has a lot of things going for it: strong songs, subtle production and the sultry, strong vocals of Ms. Bogguss.
Five of the songs on the record are new, and written by burgeoning Nashville songwriter April Barrows. Bogguss herself co-wrote “It’s Always New to Me”. Other tracks are well-seasoned classics by folks like Duke Ellington (“Do Nothing Til You Hear from Me”), Nat King Cole (“Straighten up and Fly Right”), and a couple of well-known covers—Billie Holiday’s “Comes Love” and Dan Hicks’ “Sweetheart” respectively.
Benson’s stellar production skills cannot be overstated: he really knows how to work with this material, and he’s brought along his well-seasoned bandmates for the fun. One musician especially—the Stephane Grappelli-inspired violinist, Jason Roberts—deserves special praise: he adds tremendously to the fancy-free sound of Swing. On the Bogguss-Benson duet, “Love Shot Us Both with One Arrow”, Roberts is in full gypsy swing mode, yet somehow manages to not overpower the vocals. Thankfully, Benson decided against going the Big Band route, instead using a small rooster of musicians to provide more subtle accompaniment.
There’s fluidity to the arrangements on all 12 tracks. From the up-tempo numbers like “Straighten up and Fly Right” to the bluesy “Do Nothing Til You Hear from Me”, these songs have the soul of jazz with the flash of pop.
More than anything, though, Swing is a showcase for Bogguss’s flexible, breezy vocals: the woman, simply put, proves she can sing anything—and with flair. Country music be damned, this is Suzy Bogguss’s best record yet: sexy, smart, sophisticated, and utterly listenable.
// Notes from the Road
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