Live From NYC -Sparlha Swa's concert record - displays the flaws and strengths of live albums. The 12 tracks on Live From NYC were recorded during two performances in December and January. The main flaw is that most concert albums never make peace with the fact that a concert is a multi-sensory and multi-media event. A live concert engages the listeners' hearing, sight and touch. Touch, you say? Of course, I say? You're at a concert standing cheek to jowl with hundreds or thousands of other fans and feeling the collective heat, as well as sharing the emotions with musical kindred spirits.
Even the best live CD's can't illustrate symbiotic relationship between audience and performers. In the best concerts, performers and the crowd draw energy from each other. Part of the problem is that the amplification is directed toward the stage, which means that listeners sitting in front of they're computers or stereo at home often don't have any idea that they're listening to a live CD - until they hear the scattered applause that takes place at the end of each song.
That probably explains why artists are increasingly turning to concert DVDs or placing footage on Myspace and You Tube for those of us not fortunate enough to attend the show. Of course, the cost of producing a high quality DVD is probably beyond the reach of many indie artists, and that's why it makes sense for a performer such as Swa to produce concert CDs. And concert CDs do have some strengths. The main strength is that producers can't employ the techniques used to make less talented artists sound like they can sing.
Swa CAN sing and play. And for those of us not familiar with In the Distance - Swa's 2004 record - Live From NYC serves as audible proof that she is a very capable performer. Swa is a singer with wide vocal range with a grown-up voice. The raw emotion of Swa's voice is one thing that comes across on this live album. That emotion gets its fullest display on "Song of
the Morning," and the standard "Every Time We Say Goodbye."
"Song of the Morning" features Swa's acoustic guitar playing accompanied principally by cello player Amali Premawardhana. The vocal consists of Swa humming a melody that creates a sense of someone attempting to stir themselves from a deep sleep. I especially liked Swa's inclusion of the Cole Porter standard "Every Time We Say Goodbye." Swa tells the audience that Ella Fitzgerald sang the song, and Swa's phrasing and her precise pronunciation of the lyrics reveals that Swa is a student of the songs and singers of the Great American Songbook. Anyway, it's great that Swa was willing to educate her audience. Who knows, Swa's performance influences someone to find out more about Fitzgerald.
Other strong songs include "Let's Stay Together," which is not a remake of the Al Green song; "Of God," "Brown is the Color of My True Love's Skin" and "Doing My Own Thing." There is some footage of Swa on You Tube, and a video of "Doing My Own Thing" http://www.myspace.com/sparlhaswarlhaswa. Both give viewers a sense of Swa's performance style. Still, Live From NYC's virtues outweigh make the record a worthy pickup.
By Howard Dukes