Richard Swift: The Novelist (Velvet Blue Music, 2003)
I encountered this disc through my love of Frank Lenz‘ music. Knowing that Lenz was friends with Swift, I took a chance and bought the special edition version of The Novelist. I popped it in my player and was blown away from the very first track to the final note on the disc. The disc is only 19 minutes and 38 seconds, but there is no note that is misused. There is no dead time on this disc. It’s every second is worth every penny spent on it. Swift opted for a disc that was tight, compact, and perfect rather than put out a disc that has some hits laced with mediocre songs.
This disc emanates nostalgia. “The good old days” as it were. These are the things Swift is able to display in the style of The Novelist. Set in 1938, The Novelist is an EP that sounds like it could have been a favorite of your great-grandmother’s in her youth. A mixture of rag-time, jazz, and modern pop sensibilities, Swift has effected a masterpiece. Although nostalgic in it’s music, the lyrics accomplish a melancholy realism that nostalgia usually disowns. The realism and down to earth lyrics bring the past into a more present reality.
The opening track invites the listener into the world of 1938. It sounds like the opening to a movie from the 40’s that turns into a short ragtime introduction. After ushering in the listener, Swift begins his first full track crooning “Holiday!” It is a slow tempo song that is laced with piano, various percussion sounds, Swift‘s signature keyboards and light guitar. All of it’s sparse arrangements make for a wonderfully complex song that is pleasant to the ears. Swift‘s vocals emanate longing for times gone by. He sings “Holiday/would you be my wife/ if you just name the price….breathing you in just to let me go/when nobody makes mistakes/I’m a lovely thing.” His lyrics are poetic and graceful. Wonderful to hear.
Every part of the disc is superb, but I would say that “Lovely Night” and “The Novelist” are the highlights for me. “Lovely Night” is a great ragtime style song. Medium tempo with fantastic snare in the background and a “can-can” style crash in the chorus. The tension of the melancholy and old time nature of the song comes through his lyrics: “Cause tonight it’s going to be a lovely night/With everybody looking oh so nice/and I wish that we were never born/ It’s going to be a hazy day.” Swift is an artist who has the ability to combine bright, upbeat sounds with a melancholy flavor with perfection.
The title track, “The Novelist,” is fantastic in it’s scope and artistic accomplishment. The lyrics are worth quoting in full here.
I am New York
tired and weak
I try to write a book each time i speak
mother and me
sister and I
Sunday afternoons to bleed me dry
listen to Dylan shut the door
“nobody cares anymore”
trying so hard to craft a rhyme
with nickels and dimes
I am New York
10 stories tall
pull me from my pen
before I fall
maybe mother, she is right
“love is a waste
it’s a pill everyone tastes
in your mouth”
The song is filled with soft piano and Swift crooning his lyrics in a melancholy fashion with accents of accordion and soft percussion. This is musical story telling/poetry at its best.
The journey through this disc is both fantastical and realistic. It hits the listener on a number of levels and, in the environment of modern music, contributes a piece of artistic music that was missing before its release. Swift has certainly outdone himself and I look forward to hearing more from him.
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