I’d heard a few sneak peek tracks of Maple Ridge and knew that something special was coming. With the release of These White Walls, the first single from the record, I could already tell that Swear and Shake had upped their game considerably. I thought I was adequately prepared for the remaining songs, but I was so wrong. My first attempt at reviewing Maple Ridge went a little something like this:
Swear and Shake just… This album… I don’t even… Holy mother of… I LOVE ALL THE SONGS!
Complete lack of professionalism aside, I really do love every song on this album. For one thing, they don’t sound alike at all. Fabulous is the band who can thread together cohesive tunes into a stellar record without regurgitating the same themes, chords, styles, and even melodies. In this regard, Swear and Shake is fabulous. The opening track, Marbles, is something spectacular and unexpected. This playful tune, which of course has a much deeper meaning than the whimsical whistling would suggest, calls to mind raucous New Orleans street bands. Horns, a jazz clarinet, and I think maybe even spoons, set the stage for Kari’s honeyed voice and Adam’s spot-on harmonies. What could have been throwaway lyrics in favor of the catchy music are instead thoughtful words about holding tightly to those who love you even when the going gets tough.
There is such energy and life throughout the record, even when the ballads roll. Suddenly, featuring Kari Spieler’s spectacular vocals, gives chills, especially in the last chorus when she doesn’t shy away from a grittier sound. It’s heartbreaking, and the melody will stay in your head for days even after the first listen.
With Find Her Way, Summer in a New State, and Hand and Foot, Heart and Soul, there’s a beach vibe. These upbeat tunes feature some amazing musicality from bassist Shaun Savage and percussionist Tom Elefante. Driving rhythms, a solid foundation, and creative harmonies will inspire you to hit “repeat” endlessly.
What amazes me the most about these songwriters is that even the harmony lines sound like melodies. Just setting down a harmony that’s a third or a fourth apart can be tough enough, but Kari and Adam take it even further to ensure all vocal lines have equal importance. It’s skill, pure and simple, and it’s most notable in Moving Parts, which I maintain is the standout track because of its power and tenderness. Again, the lyrics don’t take the backseat to the amazing instrumentation–which is some of the most complex I’ve heard from Swear and Shake–but instead reach inside and twist the heart.
As much as I love–and I mean adore, treasure, even revere–every song on this album (including thus far unmentioned Humming to a Sea Snail and Wrecking Ball, which deserve so much more time than I can give them for this review), my absolute favorite, cannot get enough song is the album closer, The Light. The a cappella opening gives way to tender banjo with a gospel feel. This is Swear and Shake at its very best, because it includes all the elements that make them so great–incredible harmony, inventive instrumentation, and soaring vocals from Kari, who has the best voice in folk rock, I don’t mind telling you. This song embraces dynamics, carrying you from the sweetest of beginnings to the spine-tingling climax, without ever overplaying its hand.
Fans of She and Him, The Head and the Heart, Fleet Foxes, and Mumford and Sons will love Swear and Shake. If that describes you, find their website and listen to four of the tracks from Maple Ridge to decide for yourself.
Photography by Allison Olszewski