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Swell | Whenever You're Ready (Beggars Banquet)
There is something very reassuring about David Freel's acoustic guitar rhythms. Quite how he's made a trademark sound from this most common of combinations is baffling, but over the course of seven albums that began twelve years ago with the self-titled debut (now available revamped, alongside its successor 'Well?' via Badman Recordings), Freel has, along with his lazy, stoned drawl done just that.
Reunited with original drummer Sean Kirkpatrick (also responsible for the album's delightful sleeve art), this latest offering further confounds by being arguably the best Swell album to date. Instead of becoming a trawl through lazy, self-delineated cliché, 'Whenever You're Ready' drops little surprise packages throughout, not least Kirkpatrick taking lead vocals on the brief opener, Soon Enough, or subsequent career-highlights like Next To Nothing, Say Goodbye or single California, Arizona, wherein vocalist Cory Sipper adds sublime harmony vocals.
While consistency has never been a problem for Swell, quality control had dipped slightly on the last release, the largely solo 'Everybody Wants To Know', a problem addressed emphatically here with Kirkpatrick undoubtedly acted as the catalyst. Collaborating via tape exchanges and regular drives back and forth between their Palo Alto and Santa Barbara homes, the process took little shy of two years but the result was well worth the wait. "Aim low, it's better than changing," Freel sings on So Easy, So Cool, but thankfully it's the second verse's more optimistic "aim high" that he heeded.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003

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