Richard Swift: 'The Atlantic Ocean'

There aren’t many like Richard Swift. The singer and songwriter again shows just how rare a breed he is on his latest, a captivating collection of pop songs on par with the best of Harry Nilsson: They’re knowing, intimate and deeply thoughtful.

“The Atlantic Ocean” (Secretly Canadian) builds on Swift’s penchant for jaunty piano vamps with synthesizers that lend subtle texture to “Already Gone” and provide a vivid melodic foil on the deceptively upbeat, scenester-scorning title track and “Hallelujah, Goodnight!” Muted horns and a choppy, vibrato-laced guitar chord decorate “Bat Coma Motown,” strings soak through “R.I.P.” and a diverse group of guests — Ryan Adams, Sean Lennon, Mark Ronson and Wilco’s Pat Sansone — flesh out “Ballad of Old What’s His Name” with sprawling guitars and stacked vocal harmonies.

What’s most impressive about “The Atlantic Ocean,” though, is Swift’s impeccable taste. His voice, a versatile tenor, can sound bemused without spilling into irony, and emotive without ever coming off as smarmy. Even his lusher arrangements are marvels of economy, and every note fits perfectly with a casual ease that never sounds labored over — the wind-chimey outro on “The First Time” is as essential as the chugging dry bass, Motown piano and slightly scratchy four-track vocals comprising the core of closing song “Lady Luck.”

These are pop tunes in a classic sense, with heart, smarts and a little edge. That Swift is not more widely known is a travesty: These songs, and their creator, deserve the widest possible audience.

Lady Luck mp3

(Photo by Lance Troxel)

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