Jazz and country music are half-siblings. Both are uniquely American forms. Both derive from folk music associated with people on the cultural fringes (jazz from African-Americans and country from poor whites). Yet they seem separated by a vast gulf. Certainly, one would have to make a pretty strong case that what passes for country music these days (Garth Brooks, for example) has anything whatever to do with jazz (as embodied by, say, Joe Lovano). Yet jazz and country have crossed paths on numerous occasions. Bill Frissell and Bela Fleck have blurred the lines between the genres in their respective work. Charlie Parker reportedly admired the music of Hank Williams. Jimmie Rodgers - the Singing Brakeman - recorded with Louis Armstrong.
Country chanteuse Suzy Bogguss has had a long and distinguished career, having worked with such notables as Chet Atkins and Asleep at the Wheel. On Swing
, Bogguss takes a detour into the realm of jazz, performing Nat Cole’s "Straighten Up and Fly Right," Duke Ellington’s "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," and the standard "Comes Love." The album, produced by Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson (who joins Bogguss on vocals for "Cupid Shot Us Both With One Arrow’), is performed with aplomb by a group of seasoned session men. Benson himself stands out on guitar, while violinist Jason Roberts straddles the line between Stephane Grappelli and Charlie Daniels. The result, however, is an album with something of an identity crisis. Neither jazz nor country, the music inhabits its own realm. The problem is, Bogguss can’t seem to decide exactly what that realm is.
On some tracks, like "Straighten Up And Fly Right," the jazz side is dominant. Bogguss has a fine, clear voice, and she tackles the song with vigor. While the music is pure jive, however, her voice is pure country. The mix is unsettling. On other tracks, such as "Burning the Toast," the country side wins out. But while the tune is a barn burner, the instrumentation still inclines towards jazz. It is a strange fusion; neither one thing nor the other.
Jazz fans will find little of interest on Swing
, and Bogguss’s country fans might be disappointed by the direction she has taken on this disc. Those listeners, however, who seek something that’s a little bit country AND a little bit jazz might well enjoy this latest offering. It’s certainly not a failure, but it’s not a success either. And therein lies the problem.