A bewitching journey into the haunted landscapes of gothic Americana.
Swarme of Beese describe their music as ‘hillbilly noir’ and ‘Fruits of the Golden Land’, their latest album, as a “Collection of sonic postcards from an allegorical road trip through the back roads of the American landscape, with detours to haunted places where memories and dreams intersect. The pastoral journey meanders along the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, across the prairies and cornfields of the heartland, and through the Ozarks, the Piedmont, and the coal fields of southern Appalachia.” So far, so dark…
Despite these exotic and evocative sonic wanderings, the band are based in Austin, Texas and comprises of Lynne Adele and husband Stephen Canner sharing vocals and guitars, with Stefan Keydel on fiddle. Canner writes most of the songs, with Adele contributing three, with one other a co-write between them. They are both very fine songwriters and maintain a high standard across all ten tracks. Looking at the biographies of each band member, all three of them are embedded in a variety of folk-arts and history projects and, as you might expect from a band so involved in academia, there’s always more going on in the song lyrics than would appear on first listening.
The guitars, fiddle and occasional banjo are excellent across the album, with a nice mix of styles. Keydel’s very fine fiddle and viola playing lights up the album and compliments two vocals that work very well together: Canner has a very folksy, characterful singing style that provides the hillbilly vibe, while Adele, on the other hand, brings a sweetness and loveliness that contrasts very effectively with Canner’s more earthy delivery. His sometimes nasally twang even brings to mind the magnificent Patterson Hood from Drive-By Truckers (‘Twenty Eyes’ and ‘Cellar Door’ are a couple of favourites), and when Adele takes centre stage the quality of her voice is striking, with ‘Ashes and Holy Water’, ‘Bright October Day’, and ‘Year of Dickens’ as particular standouts alongside the other excellent tracks. It’s a bold claim, but on this album at least, she comes across as a vocalist who could hold her own alongside her more starried contemporaries like Gillian Welsh or Alison Krauss.
If you’re a fan of gothic Americana, or just open to listening to some high-quality guitar and fiddle playing, and fantastic vocals, you should hitch a ride with Swarme of Beese… they’ll capture your heart and drag you screamin’ down into the deep, dark woods. You’ve been warned.