Published Mar 04, 2020The brilliance of Jerry Williams Jr.'s work as Swamp Dogg — the original D-O double G — is his refusal to stop evolving his alien soul. Despite working with such classic sounds, Swamp Dogg records rarely feel dated or out of step — his music is defined by a core of traditional blues, soul and R&B melted and reformed into subtle new shapes. His 23rd studio album, the gently warped country odyssey Sorry You Couldn't Make It, is no different.
The Auto-Tune that shaped 2018's Love, Loss and Autotune is largely absent; Williams' still-powerful voice is left mostly untouched, his warm delivery suiting the more relaxed arrangements. Williams has described Sorry You Couldn't Make It as his country album, and it rings mostly true. Though it still flirts with the blues, soul and R&B that he's built his name on, the record has a country-fried warmth, coloured by slide guitar and Southern rhythms. That those Southern rhythms are played mostly by chintzy drum machine, that they're undermined by hip-hop-biting guitar samples or artificial horns, is the record's vaguely outlandish appeal.
Sorry You Couldn't Make It is so classic in its melodies and sentiments that the experimental touches might go unnoticed first time 'round — the way the first appearance of horns on opener "Sleeping Without You Is a Dragg" recall the synthetic blooms of Mort Garson's cult classic Plantasia; the way that "Memories," featuring country hero John Prine, seems to decay in real time, deteriorating into static and echo.
The record is heavy with songs of love and romantic heartbreak, punctuated by the generational addiction blues of "Family Pain," the piano-led ode to a lost mother of "Billy," or "A Good Song," a tribute to the music of one's life. It's remarkable that Swamp Dogg is still making music this rich, with this spirit of exploration; hopefully he's got another 23 in him. (Joyful Noise / Pioneer Works Press)