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New Groove

Published: 2004/06/29
by Katie Holloway

The Jimmy Swift Band

Halifax’s pride and joy, The Jimmy Swift Band were the hometown show-stealer at last summer’s Evolve festival in Nova Scotia, Canada. This is a hardworking band that aims to entertain the folks, and more nights than not you’ll find The Jimmy Swift Band touring somewhere in Eastern Canada. Their sound cycles through through a motley crew of genres; this band is one part southern-fried rock, one part electro-house dance, and one part introspective indie.
The band is fronted by guitarist/vocalist composer Craig Mercer. Well known for his ability to craft compelling music, Mercer fetched himself an EMCA Songwriter Of the Year Award this year, which amounts to a regional Grammy for Altantic Canada. That songwriting talent is clearly reflected in JSB’s songs. The songs have complexity and depth and show an impressive range. A terrific singer with a knockout voice, Mercer has strong clear vocals that are a definite asset to the band. Noteworthy also are the lyrical ballads penned by drummer Paul [Now And Then, Anhedonia].
As the boys warm up to craft a follow-up album to 2002’s beautifully produced Onward Through The Fog, Mercer is philosophical about how the band’s sound is evolving. In Toronto as JSB rolls through a short tour of Ontario, he hands me a CD with three demos that are going to the producer. ‘They aren’t mixed down yet, so don’t let anyone else hear them,’ he says. ‘I think you’ll find this is really different from what our typical sound has been like to date.’ I listen and it’s true. New songs like Immobilized, Tongue Tied and Bumps In The Road show the band’s sound moving in a new direction. Initially they convey, to me a more introspective, indie sound indicative of Radiohead or Coldplay.
A current tour favorite that will be on the album is the dark ditty Daisy (‘It’s about a cow’, explains drummer Paul helpfully.) Daisy is a driving, energetic musical journey that skips through a series of time signature changes and stop/starts.
The boys show a down to earth attitude while they play, invoking a feeling that you are in it with them together, whatever ‘it’ is. The crowd seems to love the JSB songs that build up slowly toward groove plateaus, with Mercer’s guitar and Aaron’s keyboards interlacing into the unfold, until a modest explosion occurs into tech-house dance segments. These are tightly nailed to the floor with a relentless groove that shows the band’s funk roots, as Mike’s huge, seven-string bass and Paul’s drums hold down the floor below Mercer’s hypnotic guitar. Aaron Collier’s influence on the band’s sound is considerable as well. He is a talented and versatile keyboardist and synthmaster, and is an electronica producer in his own right, having just released a fantastic CD called Islands.
Mercer writes much of the music for the band, and plays guitar. Prolifically busy, he still manages to make time for other projects, which include managing fellow East Coast band Grand Theft Bus, and others, through his management company Below Me Music. He is also responsible for an upcoming new East Coast festival called Shoreline, to be held in Prince Edward Island the last weekend of June.
The Jimmy Swift Band is currently touring at home. Their recently recorded Live At The Attic album, taped in Halifax, will be released soon, even as they head into the studio to record an as-yet unnamed album. In July, Jimmy Swift tours the States with Grand Theft Bus.

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