Though I haven’t heard their recording of three years ago, in all probability the Swanson Family has made important improvements to their music. The three sons, who are now at the center of the group’s sound, Eric on vocals, mandolin and guitar, Tyler on vocals and banjo, and Travis on vocals and fiddle, now aged 21, 17 and 15, have added three years experience since and that makes a world of difference at that age. The band has also added Megan Bradley on lead and harmony vocals, and she turns in several fine performances, most notably on “Blue Night,” which is given a slowed down rock beat over light percussion; it’s one of the album highlights. She also gives a breezy reading to Niall Toner’s gospel tune, “Walk On The Water.”
Of the group, Travis is the best singer. His voice has a good traditional feel and an engaging touch of unbridled enthusiasm. Of his five leads, the ones that stand out are his cover of Blake Williams’ “Pleasant Hill”—a song that sounds like a hybrid of “Cherokee Shuffle” and “Pig In A Pen” with new words—and his two originals, “Still Wondering,” and the gospel tune “Ashamed.” “Still Wondering” is a fine piece of writing. Good melody. Good hooks. Gentle flowing country beat. Travis brings to it a wistful, longing quality that makes this the recording’s best cut.
For their part, Eric and Tyler give the best instrumental performances. Eric’s mandolin work in particular displays a high degree of technique and a good rounded tone to go along with some good musical ideas. Together they wrote the instrumental “Rica Shea,” a tune that mixes the feel of a fiddle dance number with contemporary styles. It reminded me of the kind of driving, melodic, fiddle tune influenced tunes that appeared on Alan Bibey’s “In A Blue Room.” This is a recording with much good music and lots of promise. (The Swanson Family 5335 W. Bonanza Dr., Beverly Hills, FL 34465, www.swansonfamilybluegrass.com.) BW