Auto-tune this, auto-tune that
On his latest album, Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune, Swamp Dogg worked with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and it shows. As fellow Music in Minnesota writer Aaron Williams pointed out, the combination of synths, horns, and auto-tune is something that he’s only really heard on Bon Iver records. Swamp Dogg says that using auto-tune was his idea, and even that he wanted to sound like Rhianna. That’s a long way from his days in the 70s channeling Al Green.
There are two equally annoying camps about the “blues legend using auto-tune” novelty: the purists who can’t handle any sort of innovation and hate it, and the hipsters who automatically like it just because it’s different and they’re told to like it. A plague on both your houses.
What it’s supposed to be about: the music
The set was filled with songs from his new album. The lineup of bass, drums, guitar, three horns, an energetic synth player, and Swamp Dogg’s keyboard made for an impressive wall of sound.
As far as the auto-tune goes, it just felt like a novelty. It doesn’t add anything, but it doesn’t really get in the way either. Honestly, the synths were more intrusive.
A highlight – kind of – was his cover of John Prine’s classic “Sam Stone,” the heartbreaking story of a Vietnam vet who dies of a heroin overdose. The first six minutes were transcendent: no auto-tune, the synth player mostly stuck to playing organ, and his voice was a bit tattered but strong.
However, the song went on for another ten or so minutes, including one of Swamp Dogg’s many expletive-laden, semi-incoherent rants. It was a bit much.
No-one else can do it for you
Sure, I’d prefer that Swamp Dogg play more classics from his impressive back catalog, in addition to putting more of an emphasis on the sheer power of his voice and music. But that’s not Swamp Dogg. He’s always been a little eccentric, and that’s one of the things that makes him such a legend. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
You’ll have to decide for yourself whether it does or not.
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Streaming today via @thefader “Answer Me, My Love” off the new LP from Swamp Dogg. Jump on through the link in our profile to listen in on the new single! ? David McMurry @davidmcmurry ▫️▫️▫️▫️▫️▫️▫️▫️▫️▫️▫️▫️▫️ @theswampdogg #swampdogg #love #loss #autotune #newmusic #natkingcole #theogdogg
For 76, Swamp Dogg was impressively active. He walked through the entire crowd twice, and his energy level never subsided. I was lucky enough to shake his hand.
During the show, Music in Minnesota writer Aaron Williams and I brainstormed analogies for auto-tune. Aaron had the brilliant suggestion that maybe it’s our generations talk-box, in which case T-Pain would be our Peter Frampton. And Kanye would be our Bon Jovi? I dunno.
To me, opener MMYYKK pulled off experimentation better than Swamp Dogg. His presence on multiple keyboards was impressive, and his backing band of trumpet and drums made things interesting sonically. Their smooth, melodic, and sometimes funky songs combined jazz, rhythm and blues, and soul. At one point, they even improvised a song onstage, and it sounded as fully formed as the rest of their songs.