The Swiftys at the Cadillac Lounge (1296 Queen West), Wednesday (November 17). $tba. 416-536-7717. Rating: NNNNN
The chugging Tennessee two giddy-up rhythm of Find Another Fool that kicks off the Swiftys' self-titled debut disc might lead you to believe the Edmonton-based twang trio is just another alt-country bunch of Johnny-Cash-come-latelys trying to save the world from Nashville schlock. While it's true that frontman Shawn "Swifty" Jonasson despises country-pop corn as much as anyone who has shared bills with Steve Earle and Fred Eaglesmith, don't mention the "alt" thing in his presence unless you're spoiling for a brawl.
A big part of why he gave up his sideman spot with veteran Edmonton country rock crew Old Reliable to focus on the Swiftys was a need to reconnect with the authentic feel of that early 70s outlaw country he grew up with in rural Dauphin, Manitoba. That's a three-hour dogsled ride north of Brandon, for those checking maps at home.
"I'm not really big on alt -country," says Jonasson with all the diplomacy he can muster over the phone from Edmonton, "at least, not like the guys from Old Reliable, but they're city boys who came up playing in punk bands. It seems like alt-country is more of an urban thing, mostly involving guys who got tired of playing punk rock.
"I grew up listening to the country records my parents played at home, from Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings to Alabama. Our bassist, Jody Johnson played in country and R&B bands around here for years, and Grant Stovel is a first-call drummer for all the touring blues artists. We're all interested in different kinds of music, which gives our sound its unique shape."
While the Swiftys obviously share a love for old-school country, the elaborately arranged songs on the album - using horns, strings and Hammond organ - are anything but traditional.
It appears that Jonasson's background studying composition and arranging at Grant MacEwan College, in addition to his previous experience gigging with jazz and R&B combos like House of Payne, had as much to do with the Swiftys' slightly skewed take on country as did the member's open-minded listening habits.
"Our original plan was to make a straight-up 70s-style country record. But every time we'd start recording a song, I'd think, 'What would it sound like with a horn part here or maybe some strings there?'"
So far the Canadian country music establishment hasn't welcomed the Swiftys' innovations with open arms.
Major-label reps aren't banging down his door, and despite all of Jonasson's persuasive efforts, Edmonton country powerhouse CFCW hasn't yet given their new disc any airplay. And Johasson would know if they did - it's one of the few stations that can be picked up by the AM radio in the flatbed truck he drives all day.
Since the Swiftys haven't yet ventured any further east than Winnipeg, they're looking forward to seeing what Toronto has to offer.
"In Edmonton we usually get a lot of kids in their later teens coming to drink and dance at our Black Dog shows. But since we played a concert here with Lucinda Williams, more of the older folk crowd has been coming out recently.
"Our stuff seems to appeal to a pretty wide audience. It'll be interesting to see who shows up at the Cadillac Lounge on Wednesday."