Album Reviews

Ken Swartz and the Palace of Sin

Smile Away the Blues

Artist:     Ken Swartz and the Palace of Sin

Album:     Smile Away the Blues

Label:     Adelphi Records

Release Date:     03.17.17

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Ken Swartz and the Palace of Sin

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From the bouncy opening Reverend Gary Davis tune through a down-home reading of “Crow Black Chicken,” Ken Swartz’s deep love of blues and deeper love of his hometown are unmistakable on his third outing with the Palace of Sin. The title encapsulates that classic N’awlins spirit perfectly—especially fitting since this group began in the wake of Hurricane Katrina—and their variety of blues is the kind that leaves you feeling better.

This band grew in the most natural Big Easy style. Swartz just went out at night and played, then joined some mates and kept playing some more;  the ensemble’s longtime chemistry is palpable as a result. The leader’s plain crooning and nimble fingerpicking sit at the center while the cast adds harmonica, fiddle or lively sax whenever it feels right. It’s old-timey instrumentation suitable to some old-timey material: they pay homage to the likes of Sleepy John Estes, Washington Philips and Blind Lemon Jefferson with joy and respect. They’d rather capture a moment than polish ity—a twangy “Milk Cow Blues” was recorded away from any studio for one of the disc’s pleasantly rough-edged highlights.

These tunes are well-performed and clearly well-loved. One can wish that Swartz got less carried away with homages and offered more of his own (only three tunes are originals here), but if you enjoy just soaking in the sounds and the atmosphere, that shouldn’t matter too much. It’s a rousing good time full of rye whiskey and Dixie grit.

—Geno Thackara

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