By James Porter | Published May 2020
Jerry Williams Jr., professionally known as Swamp Dogg, has been releasing half-cocked soul records for 50 years now. Even though his music is fairly mainstream, his humorous, off-the-wall lyrics have garnered him a cult following that places his albums in the same collections as Captain Beefheart.
During the past 20 years, the Dogg has expanded his scope a bit, waxing a country album, a Christmas album, a rock album and even a disc devoted to calypso. Last spring, he promised that his next record would be another country effort, something he’d been burning to do before “time closes in on [his] ass.” But Sorry You Couldn’t Make It doesn’t sound like a country album, even though several songs here could be interpreted that way. It comes off more like a low-key singer-songwriter effort, like what you’d wish Bill Withers would do if he decided to make a comeback. After a string of records designed to shock, the relative sanity of this disc might be the biggest shock of all.
The Dogg revisits some older compositions: eulogizing a wife on “Billy” and examining a dysfunctional household on “Family Pain.” While the entire album is stellar, two collaborations with John Prine deserve special attention.
Despite Sorry’s moody overtones, it’s tough to think of this as a late-career statement. It just seems as if Swamp Dogg might have a few more good records in his system yet.
Sorry You Couldn’t Make It: Sleeping Without You Is A Dragg; Good, Better, Best; Don’t Take Her (She’s All I Got); Family Pain; I Lay Awake; Memories; I’d Rather Be Your Used To Be; Billy; A Good Song; Please Let Me Go Round Again. (38:11)
Personnel: Swamp Dogg, Channy Leaneagh, Mina Moore, Jenny Lewis, Courtland Williams, Leona Leshon, Carmen Marks, Sherron Crenshaw, Taj’ London, Harry Watkins, John Prine, Jenny Lewis, vocals; Derrick Lee, keyboards; Moogstar synthesizer, congas; Justin Vernon, guitar, piano, vocals; Chris Beirden, bass; Carmen Camerei, French horn, trumpet; Alistair Sung, cello; Sam Amidon, fiddle; Jake Hanson, Jim Oblon, guitar.