Released on 1 August, the self-titled debut EP from singer/songwriter Emma Swift shows her native Australia is ahead of the curve. Nominated by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for Best Country Album only two months after its release, Emma Swift sits alongside releases from luminaries such as Keith Urban and Kasey Chambers, the latter tapping Swift to open for her on dates last month in their native Australia.
Swift’s nomination — somewhat a surprise — is justly warranted. In a twist of irony, Swift had relocated to Nashville to record the album, one in which has no place in today’s Music City. The loping waltz of opener “Bittersweet” harkens back to days when country was country, where drinks were served in bars, not in plastic cups on a beach or at a tailgate. More Kitty Wells than Carrie Underwood, Swift pays tribute to Nashville in the love letter of “Woodland Street,” accented by Russ Pahl’s (John Hiatt, Elton John) tasteful pedal steel and James Haggerty’s (The Autumn Defense) thunking bass.
Hold me, show me
Make me, believe
Tell me, sell me
Something I can dream
Singing on the eight-minute centerpiece, “King of America,” Swift’s doe-eyed narrator does a coy, drunken dance with “an old western singer / With a rock and roll band.” Swift wisely gives Pahl, Haggerty, drummer Bryan Owings (Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris) and guitarists Anne McCue and Chris Pickering space to let her words sink in on “King of America” and the foretelling of a May-December romance on the chipper “Seasons.” Left longing, Swift plays out a mental scenario of idyllic love on the wishful “James,” a nod to LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy.
Like fellow Nashville outcast Sturgill Simpson, Swift revisits ’80s schmaltz, covering The Motels’ “Total Control,” reimagining the thudding new wave hit as a torch song. At only six songs, what Emma Swift lacks in length is rectified by its memorable gilded vignettes of first romances and forever promises. Puppy love in hindsight, Emma Swift’s in-the-moment earnestness will steal your heart. It’s not a stretch to imagine these songs playing out on a Wurlitzer Jukebox over the din of a dive bar, hence why Emma Swift is Vinyl Worthy.
The ARIA awards take place in Sydney on 26 November. For the record, Swift has my vote. Stream/purchase Emma Swift below or purchase a signed copy of the CD via Laughing Outlaw Records.