KURT SWINGHAMMER at C'est What (19 Church) every Sunday in May. $7, or $20/including CD. 416-867-9499. Rating: NNNNN
record stores are bought and sold on broken hearts. Misery sells -- and inspires -- so it's to be expected that when a musician goes through a breakup, what follows is the spleen-venting, gut-wrenching breakup album. There are millions of them.
Toronto singer/guitarist and visual artist Kurt Swinghammer dropped a wicked variation on that theme with his new Black Eyed Sue disc, released on his own Cultural Engineering imprint. And he's upped the ante for brutal honesty.
Swinghammer was obviously wounded when a seven-year relationship ended. But Black Eyed Sue -- feted during a May residency at C'est What and complemented by a set of paintings Swinghammer created to exhibit at the gigs -- chronicles an affair that ended seven years ago.
"I just wanted to honour this experience I had in my life. Art helps you to externalize things and heal," Swinghammer offers. "I didn't ask for it to happen this way. The subject was just triggered and I began writing about it. To not write about it seemed like denial."
The timeline isn't the only thing setting Black Eyed Sue apart. The disc's gentle, acoustic folk-pop songs detail, in precise language, such wildly personal things as an abortion, elevator erections and a gang rape while pausing to point out exact geographical spots in the city (and abroad) where certain events took place.
But while Swinghammer's obsession with a past affair seems kind of creepy, his defence, outlined over cool drinks in the garden of his Kensington Market home, makes sense. Too many singer-songwriter records, he says, lack bite.
"These are delicate subjects, and I wasn't sure they were suitable for public consumption," Swinghammer offers of the disc, which he wrote, produced and arranged at his home studio. He's abetted by guests including bassist Maury LaFoy, cellist Mike Olson and singer Mia Sheard, whose porcelain voice brackets the album's 13 songs.
"I've always believed exposure to good art makes you a better artist. Prior to writing this, I toured with Ron Sexsmith, and watching him play 30 amazing songs every night totally inspired me. So I was primed to kick ass with some good writing."
It's easily his most gripping, powered at once by stark imagery, Swinghammer's unblinking delivery and a cast of tremendous players who add economical but affecting swooshes of violin, recorder, flute and accordion.
Copies can be scored at www.maplemusic.com and at the gigs.
And has his former flame heard it?
"She has," Swinghammer says. "She was a little flipped out, but in a good way. I kind of just left her with the CD," he chuckles. "I didn't want to be sitting beside her as she heard it.
"But she sent me a note saying I had expressed things that were inside her that she didn't even know I was aware of. She said she wished she had an artistic outlet to express her feelings."