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Seth Swirsky: Songs from the Green Couch
(Lolipop Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/4/2022)
The appeal of the Beatles remains timeless. Generations of musicians and fans continue to look to the Fab Four as a source of inspiration, directly or indirectly. The recent documentary mini-series Get Back has further rekindled interest. One artist who has consistently and unapologetically drawn upon the Beatles as a source of influence is Seth Swirsky, who has just released a new recording called Songs from the Green Couch.
Seth Swirsky is a bit of a polymath. In addition to his music, he is an author, including one on depression drawing on his master’s degree in clinical psychology. He is a filmmaker, having made the acclaimed documentary Beatles Stories with lot of regular folks recalling how the Beatles were part if their lives, and a trilogy of books on baseball, as well as a children’s book. He is also a visual artist. In his music, Swirsky is a prolific songwriter having written tunes recorded by Al Green, Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John, Michael McDonald and Air Supply to name a few, and he also penned jingles used in national commercials.
Swirsky has been half of the pop duo The Red Button, who since 2008 has released three albums with the kind of melodic, 1960s-infused pop that was the stock in trade of the British invasion. Songs from the Green Couch is his fourth solo album.
Swirsky said that the new album was two years in the making, involving a trio with bassist Glenn Brigman and drummer Brendan Peleo-Lazar, but with Swirsky playing most of the other parts, with retro instruments like a Mellotron, and a Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, with the jangly guitar sound epitomized by the Byrds in the 1960s. Like many of the British Invasion pop tunes, most are love songs reflecting different situations. Swirsky says that he started writing the album at the beginning of a serious new relationship, and continued during what he describes as “a painful breakup.” So the songs, with their rather unambiguous lyrics represent the various stages from outright love odes to sad laments about a breakup, though in Swirsky’s case, the lyrics are also wrapped in catchy tunes. And like much of the pop from a half-century ago, the tunes are short – all but one are under 4 minutes – and yet plentiful. There are 15 on the album. And throughout, Swirsky incorporates musical elements reminiscent of the Beatles, from the occasional cello to bits of backward guitar and the sounds of an old Mellotron string simulator.
Opening the album is Sunny Day which is in two parts, first a mellow melodic section <<>> before it gets rocky with a kind of 1960s British Invasion sound, with drummer Brendan Peleo Lazar sounding like Keith Moon of the Who. <<>>
A kind of classic melodic pop song with all the right ingredients is I Don’t Wanna Lose You, a full out love song with its title forming a great tuneful hook. <<>>
A somewhat different lyrical direction is taken on Whatever Happened To... not exactly a breakup song, but one about missing a friend, or perhaps a lover, who moved away. <<>>
One of the songs that probably came after the breakup that Swirsky talked about is Dead, with rather despairing lyrics but still in a melodic musical setting. <<>>
The track Every Time has a reference to the green couch in the album’s title, as a place of refuge. A little string section makes an appearance, with some Beatles-style arrangements. <<>>
Another straight-out love song is a track called Becky done in a more intimate setting minus drums. <<>>
In their day, the Beatles created some songs that evoked the popular music of earlier decades, such as When I’m Sixty Four. Swirsky includes I’m in a You Kind of Mood which evokes the vaudeville era. <<>>
Another post-breakup song is What Was I Thinking? with regret over pulling the plug on a relationship. <<>>
The album ends with a kind of bookend to the opening track. American Bar reprises and expounds on the opening theme of the song Sunny Day. <<>>
On his new album Songs from the Green Couch, singer-songwriter, author, filmmaker and graphic artist Seth Swirsky again pays tribute to the melodic British Invasion pop of more than a half-century ago, with 15 compact songs that hit all the right buttons, and yet maintain a degree of originality, and are impressive in their quality. Almost every one of them is a hummable gem.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. The mix puts everything in the right place, and the lyrics throughout are quite intelligible. But, as is so often the case in current recordings like this, the volume compression intended to make everything artificially loud, killed a lot of the dynamics of the songs.
Seth Swirsky says that he uses an old green couch in his art studio as a place of refuge, and said he wrote many of the songs while sitting there , hence the album’s title. He has been doing this kind of melodic pop now for decades both on his solo albums and with the Red Button. Songs from the Green Couch shows that a decades-old style can have real staying power in the right hands.
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