With tickets in hand for our upcoming “first” concert of 2017 (Tomi Swick & Laura Cole, Burlington, ON), I decided to listen to Tomi Swick’s most recent release to become familiar with the material prior to the show. What I did not expect to encounter was this amazing tour de force of roots rock, blues, country, and soul so perfectly interwoven to create a unique sound. I have not listened to an album like this in quite some time where every track prompts me to ponder the age old “who does this remind me of?” question, whilst almost never generating the same answer twice.
This particular “light bulb” moment in my head during repeated plays of the album provided not only food for thought, but food for this blog article. So here we have “The Yukon Motel” – fresh material that is distinctly Tomi Swick, but also a collection of songs that could easily have been mistaken for other well-known performers. In no way is this meant to undermine the fine album that Swick has created, but to demonstrate what this one particular listener could envisage when hearing these amazing tracks. The following musings pertain to a selection of tracks from this album.
Opening track “Wake Me Up” is certainly no sleeper, with the bluesy guitar riff giving way to Swick’s gruff vocals. Before the first verse is over, I already drew an immediate comparison to the sound of earlier material from John Mellencamp.
“Bad Things” stands out to me as one of the most enjoyable songs on this album. The introduction hints of old soul, but then adds a vintage country sound, and Swick suddenly delivers his vocals in a style that oozes similarity to Curtis Stigers (à la “I Wonder Why”). The old soul guitar and bass with the wonderful addition of pedal steel, dominate as the track progresses, and contrary to Swick’s lyrics, he never once “runs out of air.”
The musical elements of roots and blues rock intersect in “Red Light,” where Swick’s growl returns to bellow out the lyrics in fine fashion. The sound is distinctly blue-collar blues rock, but suddenly the guitar riffs kick in and draw comparisons to the Anglo-Irish sounds of bands like Coldplay, Kodaline, and U2. This track is an explosive blues-rock masterpiece, and I cannot wait to experience it live.
For some bizarre, completely unexplainable reason, the acoustic guitar intro to “Juliet” conjures up thoughts of “Our Last Shot” by Groenland. Different bands, different styles, different music – yet some similarity is there to make me wonder if these are musical siblings separated at birth. This is another bluesy number that delves back into the Mellencamp sound once again.
Whisked off to the Deep South, “Sunshine Sweet Liquor” is the feel-good track on this album, and draws instant comparisons to the delta soul sounds of Nathaniel Rateliff. Swick’s vocals, the discreet violin, and the dominant hi-hat provide a perfect recipe for a good time hopping into the hammock with a glass or two of fine Southern Comfort on a balmy summer evening.
“Travelin’ Man” is the one song in this collection that had me drawing comparisons, but to who? The intro has a mild Led Zeppelin vibe, but the sound and style could be who? Tom Petty? Maybe. Pete Yorn? Possibly. The sound is vintage, yet familiar. The sound is pure Swick, and that’s all that matters here. Great tune, with some great slide-guitar thrown into the mix that guarantees to have your foot tapping in time with this one.
“I’ll Get You Out of Here” is another stand-out track that provides Swick the opportunity to demonstrate his vocal prowess. And how can you not hear Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” during the intro? There is a catchy line in this track that I’m sure will elicit crowd reaction in a live environment, and I can’t wait to find out for myself.
Just when you think you have successfully categorized this musical style, Swick launches into “Lucky Ghost” and prompts yet another re-evaluation process. For me, this is a fabulous addition to the album, with a western flair similar to Raul Malo, and oozes roots Americana from a seemingly lost era. Blending immediately into the title track “The Yukon Motel,” the old-country vibe continues with a part slow, part up-tempo pace, delighting the senses and then teasing you with a bass and pedal steel outro that leaves you craving for much more.
The closing track “Emmanuel” features just vocals and an acoustic guitar in what could easily be that “crowd wants a second encore” solo piece. Swick not only demonstrates his ability to slow it down and deliver a strong folk-type tale, but an ability to finally draw no comparisons, for this is Tomi at his best. As Swick fades out, the listener is already hitting the repeat button and taking a ride with this incredibly versatile and talented Canadian artist. We look forward to an entertaining night of music with Tomi Swick, and after spending time with this album, I’m sure that we are in for an absolutely wonderful evening.
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