Mar 29, 2021
Veronica Swift’s second album has been hugely anticipated. Heck, she was on the cover of Downbeat in the November issue, months before her latest collection of tunes was ready for release.
This Bitter Earth (Mack Avenue Records), takes on song-cycle characteristics as Swift tackles sexism [“How Lovely to Be a Woman”], domestic abuse [“He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)”], racism/ xenophobia [“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”] and the dangers of fake news [“The Sports Page”].Accompanied by her regular team of kindred spirts that includes pianist Emmet Cohen, guitarist Armand Hirsch and flutist Aaron Johnson, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Bryan Carter, Swift curates material that covers multiple genres, including jazz, American musicals, vintage R&B and contemporary rock.
Individually, there is much to enjoy on each track, as Veronica brings her special approach to phrasing and innuendo to each selection. However, when listened to as a curated, cohesive unit, This Bitter Earth becomes something special. There is a deeper meaning, sometimes a feeling of foreboding and sometimes even chilling, as she sings of male-female relationships that take a turn toward the violent. Going from an almost insidious “How Lucky to Be a Woman” and then on to “The Man I Love” to “The Dangerous Type” to “Trust in Me” (from The Jungle Book) and then to Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s controversial “He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)” is a long, hard road that seems to lead to domestic abuse, but she tempers the mood as she lets the irony ooze out of her voice, often singing against the subject matter. When we get to “As Long as He Needs Me,” sung by the doomed Nancy in Oliver!, the dramatic irony intensely permeates both her arrangement and phrasing. Strong stuff, and brilliantly done by both Veronica and her bandmates.
Raised in Charlottesville, Virginia by her parents – pianist Hod O’Brien and singer Stephanie Nakasian – she recorded her first album, Veronica’s House of Jazz, when she was only nine years old and played major venues such as Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City by the time she was eleven. . After high school, she attended the University of Miami, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 2016. Her debut album on Mack Avenue Records Confessions was a smash, earning her many “Best of” list nods. This Bitter Earth seems to be taking her to even higher heights.
Podcast 807 is my conversation with Veronica Swift, as we discuss the new album, her collaborations with Emmet Cohen, and her love for a wide variety of music, ranging from jazz to pop (she calls Laura Nyro “a badass”) to her rock opera and film projects. Musical selections from This Bitter Earth include “How Lucky to Be a Woman” and “As Long As He Needs Me.”