I’ll say the same thing for this album as I said for Tony Jackson’s album last week – this just wasn’t a good week to release an album. All eyes are (deservingly) on the new Colter Wall and Zac Brown Band albums, but if there’s another album that should have caught your attention, it’s songwriter Liz Rose’s Swimming Alone.
Now, you can somewhat blame the marketing for this to happen. After all, other albums by famous musicians known primarily as songwriters such as Lori McKenna, Natalie Hemby, and Travis Meadows have all caught some deserving attention. I myself didn’t even know this was coming out until about two weeks ago. That’s a shame too, because overall, Swimming Alone is a good record.
Now, I say “good” because I’m not quite sure it’s a great record. It’s a little inconsistent as a whole, but on the flip side there’s some incredible moments here. Swimming Alone almost reads like a concept album for Rose’s upbringing. Sure, she’s a little reckless like on “Five & Dime” and “Woodstock”, but it’s those moments that give the reflection tracks such as “Tulsa”, “Swimming Alone”, and “My Apology” so much more weight. “Grocery Money” leads off the story by describing your typical “we ain’t got it all but we got enough” story and giving it some real….oh I’ll use the critic word, “nuance” and really giving it some personal, unique flavor. The soft percussion matched against the acoustics and pedal steel make this song a strong opener, and personally, I can relate to a lot of this song.
One thing I do like about this album is that in terms of the production, it doesn’t feel like a singer-songwriter album, and trust me, that’s a good thing. I’m not absolutely bored out of my mind wishing we got some variety here. Even on the slower, more typical songwriter tracks the tempos never feel like they’re dragging or that they need to pick up the pace at all. Just add some nice percussion, pedal steel and a solid acoustic melody and we’re good! As for the tracks that don’t, well, I do like the punch that a song like “Five and Dime” brings to the table with its more country-rock oriented nature, but I will admit that the “ohs” that come in before the hook sound a little lethargic in their delivery.
On the note of country-rock though, we also get a track like “Woodstock”. I wasn’t really a fan of this song upon my first couple of listens, mostly because I just failed to understand its importance in the context of this album. After some thinking though, I do think it speaks more to that narrative arc of growing up and accepting that the past is the past. She was too young to go to Woodstock, and while the teenager in her probably hates that, there’s more important matters to attend to in the present day rather than worry about something in the past.
When it comes to an album like this though, we need to get back to the actual songwriting though. I absolutely love the title track for feeling an anthem for introverts like me who are fine not following the crowd, and the pain that shines through on a track like “Yellow Room” is simply incredible. “Tulsa” is also an incredible look at what it means to truly grow up. It doesn’t mean being cool, it means being true to yourself.
I’m not completely enamored with it all though. “Letters From Prison” features a very fun, almost Irish like melody, and the concept of a convict sending letters to his lover on the outside is sweet and all, but there are some questions left unanswered. There’s a verse that says he “was only drinking”, but that seems a little vague to leave at that, and to frame the convict as sympathetic…well look, if he’s guilty I’m not really going to feel that sorry for him. I don’t know if he is though. Also, while I can appreciate the wonderful sentiment that a song like the closer “My Apology” brings to the table, I can’t help but wonder if honing in on one or two of the numerous examples she mentions would have made for a more compelling “apology” rather than just listing off several wrongs in her life. I also will say that while I think “Ex-Husbands” is very clever lyrically, it’s one track where the melody and production just don’t sit well with me.
But overall I would recommend Swimming Alone and say that it’s well worth your time. Sure, the thematic arc could have been sequenced a little bit better, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are some truly fantastic moments on this album like the title track and “Tulsa” among others. In terms of the writing, Liz Rose is overall a very potent writer, and the production is surprisingly very fresh and crisp. It’s a shame that this isn’t getting some more attention, so be sure to check it out. As for me, I’m feeling a decent to strong 7/10 for this album.
Best Songs: “Swimming Alone”, “Grocery Money”, “Tulsa”, “Woodstock”, “Yellow Room”
Weakest Song: “Ex-Husbands”