Can an obscure band of Baristaville musicians — defunct for well over a decade — come back together to produce an album that has any hope of still being relevant? To quote their CD’s title track, “Stranger Things” have happened.
The Swales broke up in 1997, after their second release, What’s His Name, met the same fate as their first release, Pleasureland — critical praise, sporadic support by college and indy radio stations, and low sales figures. Despite some recognition and opening gigs for acts including Freedy Johnston, They Might Be Giants, Cracker and Henry Rollins, the break-up was inevitable. Members scattered: Eric Harris to Olivia Tremor Control; Ken Tondre to form the Kevin Fowler Band; Mike Daly and Mike Santoro to tour with Whiskeytown; and chief songwriter, Montclair resident Bob Carr to a decade-long stint of at-home daddying of his two kids in Montclair.
Now, jumping on the trend of middle-aged band members reuniting, long after sanity, children, real jobs and herniated discs caused them to quit long ago, The Swales have returned.
Carr recalls his personal experience of being reluctantly lured out of his house by a friend of a friend to perform at a local coffee shop song swap. He dusted off his acoustic guitar and a couple of the dozen or so tunes he had written in a dozen or so years and performed them for an appreciative, caffeine-buzzed crowd.
One of the audience members was an old acquaintance, Mark Moran, of Weird NJ fame, who had also laid down his guitar years ago to publish the magazine. Mark and Bob struck up a conversation afterward and, finding they liked a lot of the same bands, decided to record a song or two together – “purely for the hell of it.” One thing led to another and the ultimate result is Stranger Things, a collection of thirteen Carr penned story-songs about love and loss in the age of diminishing returns. Although it would be a stretch to call this album sunny, Carr’s wit and sense of humor are always there to rescue the listener from gloom.
Multi-instrumentalist Mark Moran arranged and produced the album. A small army of area artists including Mike Santoro and Ken Tondre (former Swales), James Mastro (The Bongos, Ian Hunter Band), Dennis Dikken (The Smithereens, Bell Sound), Chris Bolger (R. Stevie Moore, Bell Sound) added their sound to the mix, along with some of Jersey’s unsung heroes from such bands as Clancy’s Ghost, The Skels and the Hoppin’ Haoles.
The Swales wonder if all this talent and effort will add up to commercial success or critical acclaim. “Odds are surely against it,” they say. The one guarantee The Swales confidently make is that “anyone who stumbles upon Stranger Things and takes a chance on it will come away feeling a little more in touch with the life that surrounds them, in all its harshness and all its beauty.”
Baristanet has three CDs to give away to the first three people to correctly answer the two-part question in the comment section below.
QUESTION: What is the name of the giant pachyderm on the cover of the new CD by The Swales, Stranger Things, and where is it located? The album cover is shown above, right.
Photo by George Kopp.