Swimming Bell “Charlie”

Permanent Records, 2024

Gorgeous vocals raise the stakes on impressive album.

Charlie’ is the second album from LA-based songwriter Katie Schottland’s Swimming Bell project. The album’s beginnings date back to 2019 and before a relocation from Brooklyn to the West Coast and a reunion with co-producer Oli Deakin. During those pandemic-dominated months that followed the move Schottland used the changing world around her to influence her writing. The fact that it has taken this long to release the album reflects the artist’s determination not to rush, to let the rapidly changing world, a world clouded in adversity, seep into her work.

With songs of love, grief, loss, daydreams and reflections on the changes going on around her ‘Charlie’ is a fine showcase for Schottland as both writer and singer. With variations in pace and feel the songs themselves are never predictable but it is Schottland’s vocals that really shine. It is a lovely, sublime thing that works well enough on the noisier numbers but one that truly comes to the fore where the accompaniment is pared back. ‘Just Begun’ is a gentle album closer that features Schottland accompanied by solo acoustic guitar with a haunting electric solo. Before ‘The Carnival’ kicks up a gear with brass and full band backing there is a minute of Schottland singing alone bar a tambourine alongside her. ‘Born Wild’ is an album highpoint and morphs into one of the most up-tempo songs on the album but only after a couple of minutes of sparse musical accompaniment that demonstrate once again the vocal range of the artist.

Our review of Swimming Bell’s 2019 debut ‘Wild Sight’ stated “Whilst there are some more propulsive tracks included, it is the gentler material that impresses. Schottland’s beautiful keening voice is often multi-tracked and overdubbed to provide an almost ethereal choir-like effect.” It is no criticism of the artist or album to say those words can also be applied directly to this album. That “choir-like effect” gives a lovely harmonious feel to many of these songs and only serves to add another layer of depth and feeling to those vocals.

It may have been three or four years in the making but ‘Charlie’ has been worth the wait. If, for no other reason than to marvel at the gorgeous vocals of Katie Schottland, this is an album that deserves a hearing.

8/10
8/10

About Peter Churchill 176 Articles
Lover of intelligent singer-songwriters; a little bit country; a little bit folk; a little bit Americana. Devotee of the 'small is beautiful' school of thought when it comes to music venues.
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