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Album Review

TRAVIS ELLIOTT
Diving With Swans

Just when I was catching up. I have this elusive dream of writing a fairly comprehensive article about the music scene in Charlottesville VA and should by all rights have finished it long ago except for the fact that the place is so overloaded with music and talent that I am beginning to believe I am on a fool's errand. You know the story--- one step forward, two steps back. Of course, it doesn't help when guys like Lance Brenner keep my inbox pulsing with “listen to this”'s and “here's something you might like”'s. I thought about blocking him, the digital equivalent to a restraining order, but then I thought better of it. It's not like he's Ozzie or anything (I know, Oz, promote one oral decapitation--- real or otherwise--- and you're scarred for life) and to all accounts, Lance seems harmless enough.

Seems. He is deadset against my Charlottesville project. I know this because a couple of months ago he badgered me about this new guy, Travis Elliott, how I had to hear him and even sent his bandcamp site info so I wouldn't have an excuse. He knows I have a few minutes now and again. He follows me on Facebook. Damn interactive sites, anyway.

So I followed the link and listened. And listened. And I'm still listening. It doesn't hurt that I'm hit in a weak spot. I have this thing for Mariana Bell, see (no, not that kind of thing), and she sings backup on two tracks, so I listened hard to those two first (Backseat and Miles Away), knowing it would be worth it just for that. It was, and then some. The crunchy rhythm guitar and vocal harmonies on the former, not to mention the slightly outside the norm approach to chord progression, caught my ear and I was hooked.

It was time to buckle down and listen hard. In this strange new world of music, if you don't, you miss out. In other words, what may sound like more of the same is many times so much more. A case in point would be Mariana Bell's Book album. The more I listened, the more I got it. Same here. First time through, it was good. Second, better. Many listens later, it has jumped high onto my want-to-hear list, reserved for minor (and to a lesser degree, major) aural urges.

While Swan Dive is mainly just pop rock, Elliott has an outstanding voice and a rare touch when writing a song, not all that easy when you're writing mainstream. My favorites are the aforementioned Backseat, a rhythmic rocker with intriguing acoustic/electric guitar picking as bedrock (and excellent way-in-the-background vocals on the bridge)--- Backwards Fall, with its choogling crunching rhythm guitar and solid beat--- and the rock ballads Rearview and Miles Away, laid back but electric and, at moments, anthemic. Miles Away, in fact, stands way out, thanks to the beautiful dual vocals and harmonies of Elliott and Bell (and the fact that is a killer song).

I'm listening on Bandcamp, so I cannot be all that sure about sound quality, but I can say that Brenner nailed the production. Even if by some chance all of the musical ideas and arrangements were Elliott, you would have to give Brenner credit for staying out of the way. Like a great guitarist relies on spaces between notes as much as the notes themselves, so a good producer relies on restraint at the right moments. 'Nuff said.

Is Swan Dive great? I have no idea. All I know is that with all of the music I have listened to over the years, Travis Elliott's is working its way into my consciousness. Do you know how cool it is to have Miles Away bump aside superstar hits I can't get away from? It is cool, trust me. I swear, if I have to listen to... Ah, but I don't. Elliott has given me another switch I can turn on and off in my head, much as Bell did with Book and Paul Curreri did with California and Devon Sproule did with Don't Hurry For Heaven (Sponji Reggae is a song for the ages). I really have to get on that Charlottesville article. The musical capital of my world.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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