Openers – Thom Swift
Thom Swift – Hugh’s Room, Toronto, Preview – March 11, 2010
Pity the job of the show opener. Often a last-minute add-on or somebody’s marketing ploy to gain exposure for an up-and-comer, theirs is the task of taking on a room full of people – none of whom have come to see them, and to warm the crowd for the better-paid headliner. Sometimes these pairings are brilliant. More often than not, they’re not.
In the case of this Thursday’s (March 11th) show at Hugh’s Room, you’ll be getting much more than your money’s worth for the chance to hear Thom Swift open for J.P. Cormier. Thom’s better known in the Atlantic provinces as the blues-soaked third of local heroes Hot Toddy. This band – a rootsy, organic mélange of blues, jazz and folk – has had a phenomenal 10 year run, having taken on a life of its own based on the virtuosity of the players. At the same time, each band member maintains enough of a life on the side to follow up on solo projects and interesting collaborations.
Thom Swift is in town to promote his newest solo record, Blue Sky – the follow-up to ‘07s acclaimed Into The Dirt. Thom is fast finding focus in musical territory that capitalizes on his myriad influences: his country blues base is still evident yet he’s embarking on a distinctive singer-songwriter Canadiana sound that’s surprisingly accomplished for someone who’s been connected to two other players for so long. His confidence is all over this new release as it was on the last – from the uplifting title track to the scintillating “Down The Road”…a jaw-dropping instrumental that crystallizes his soulful stance in just over three minutes. Joined by a who’s who of Atlantic session players – Bill Stevenson (piano, B3), Geoff Arsenault (drums, percussion), Matt Andersen (vocals), Brian Bourne (bass) and Chris Corrigan (electric guitar) – Thom’s strong sense of home is always fully realized.
Blue Sky is a bold step forward – songs like “Killer” employ considerable rock muscle to make its point while “One Way Track” follows a similar hard-hitting path in a sea of guitars and swirling B3 – quite unlike the Thom you may have expected. Yet, at the same time, his always-expressive vocals are at the forefront of his solo career – every bit as important in the mix as his sophisticated guitar-playing, driving the music forward. One listen to “Stand Tall” – the opening track – instantly colours in the rest of the picture. This radio-ready song could double as a back-up, feel-good anthem for the act of simply holding it all together.
J.P. Cormier – Thursday’s aforementioned headliner – guests on three of Blue Sky’s tracks – notably on “Seafoam” in which he adds fiddle accompaniment to yet another drop-dead instrumental. With luck, perhaps they’ll reprise it at Thursday’s show…
In other words, this isn’t your typical show opener and fans of J.P. Cormier’s old-soul approach to his craft will also delight in the complementary skills of Thom Swift. Rarely will you find two such accomplished musicians in the same venue on the same night – and Hugh’s Room’s delightful, whisper-quiet atmosphere is just the way they like it. Add to this the fact that both hail from the east coast, and you’re guaranteed a ringside seat for the substantial degree of earnest intensity that comes with the territory. The possibilities dazzle….
– Eric Thom