Richard Swift is a sort of enigma in the independent music world. After releasing two highly acclaimed 7” LP’s and 1 EP on California’s Velvet Blue Music, playing a smattering of shows on the West Coast, and appearing as a guest musician or producer on releases like Starflyer 59’s Old or Wayne Everett’s Kingsqueens, Swift has been garnering praise from fans and other musicians alike. Yet, with only a few songs properly released and a limited touring schedule, Swift has left music fans rabid in anticipation to hear more of his unique music. The Richard Swift Collection Volume One should be enough to hold these fans over, as it contains two EP’s, packaged together in a smart-looking double-case. One of the EP’s found on The Richard Swift Collection Volume One is the fantastic The Novelist (the EP originally released on Velvet Blue Music), but the main attraction of this double-disc is the proper released of Swift’s oft-rumoured Walking Without Effort. Walking Without Effort is a legendary collection of 9 tracks that Swift originally released in 2001 to a handful of friends on CD-R. The CD-R made the burnt CD rounds, eventually ending up in the greedy hands of a few fans. Finally, after three years of EBAY-scouring by desperate fans and the constant buzz of a potential impending release, Walking Without Effort is finally available to all, regardless of the “indie-cred” or dumb luck that a select few were able to originally muster to hear these songs.
Walking Without Effort proves to be worth the long wait. What should be said about this EP is that it is not the same release as the 2001 CD-R with proper packaging. While the songs are the same songs, sequenced in the same order, the songs have been rerecorded, giving fans lucky enough to hear the CD-R an incentive to check out The Richard Swift Collection Volume One. The new take on the songs gives them more fullness and poise than the original versions. This newly conceived approach, where Swift pays more attention to detail, particularly in vocal arrangements and musical accents, coupled with the increased recording quality, gives the songs on Walking Without Effort a new lustre. The EP opens with the brief instrumental “Walking Without Effort Theme”, leading to the opening strains of “Half Lit”. Fans who have followed Swift’s career will right away notice the difference in style between Walking Without Effort and Swift’s other releases. Rather than writing and performing jazz-influenced pieces that sound if they were recorded in the 1930’s, Swift’s songs on Walking Without Effort take a 70’s singer-songwriter approach, and “Half Lit” is no exception. Featuring a light groove, campy horn arrangements, and other subtle touches such as sweet vocal harmonies and hand-claps, “Half Lit” sounds like it could have come straight out of the era of the Carpenters and Beegees. But, in saying this, one would be inclined to think that “Half Lit” (and Walking Without Effort as a whole) contains the excess that the 70’s is known for, but rather the opposite is true. Walking Without Effort is characterized by a remarkable restraint, resulting in heartfelt but laidback jams. “In the Air” follows, providing a great example of Swift’s ability to play within himself. The song is a more stripped-back and emotional one, with gorgeous lyrics and an instantly emotive melody. On top of the subtle keyboard, George Harrison-esque guitar arrangements, solemn horns, picked acoustic guitars, and the decidedly groovy drum part, Swift sings with a passion and sensitivity rarely heard. The song builds to a climax, but rather than belting out an aggressive barrage of notes, Swift simply reverts to his beautiful falsetto, and double-tracks it to a stunning effect. Plainly, as shown on his previous releases, Swift is a master at creating musical tension with subtleties and control (though he no doubt has the chops to belt out notes with the best of them).
The lighter “As I Go” follows, reminding listeners in its arrangements of his “The Novelist” era work with its fun tempo, percussion, and nicely-executed vocal harmonies. “Above and Beneath” is a more singer-songwriter oriented song, stripped back some to let Swift’s voice shine. That is not to say that the song lacks in musical direction and arranging, as Swift incorporates plenty of keyboards and other parts that simply augment his remarkable vocal delivery. “Mexico (1977)” is a song somewhat similar to “In The Air”, with its subtle groove, passionate vocals, and strong melody, and “Losing Sleep” features the same strengths along with perfect harmonies from recording-mate Frank Lenz. No Richard Swift recording, it seems, would be complete without a track featuring his distinct voice singing over a solitary piano, and “Not Wasting Time” fulfills this niche flawlessly. “Beautifulheart” rounds out this EP, with a relatively quick tempo, distorted guitar, acoustic strumming, and soaring vocals from Swift. The song is a perfect emotional catharsis for the listener, giving the listener a chance to release some energy built-up in Swift’s masterful collection of subtly affective songs.
The lyrics certainly deserve a special mention, as they keep in Swift’s usual high quality in this area. But, what is unusual about the lyrics of Walking Without Effort is their devotional clarity, as Swift delivers what are essentially worship/religious lyrics, yet in that unimposing and sincere fashion that one hears on discs like Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans or Neilson Hubbard’s Sing Into Me. The theme of humbly resolving one’s life to God appears on songs like “In The Air”, “As I Go” or “Not Wasting Time” in a way that is appealing, edifying, and contrite. Clearly, these lyrics give the EP an added depth that only bolsters this CD’s poignancy.
We’ve already sung the praises of The Novelist, which shows up on The Richard Swift Collection Volume One newly re-mastered. Taken as a whole, The Richard Swift Collection Volume One is a collection of amazing songs from a fascinating artist who continues to impress the music world with his incredible talent. That Richard Swift can hold his own among the best in the music world as a singer, song and lyric writer, arranger and producer is apparent, but what is truly amazing is that he has not received the widespread mainstream acclaim that his work clearly warrants. The Richard Swift Collection Volume One may just be the release that sparks the close attention Swift deserves.