Veronica Swift

This Bitter Earth
(Mack Avenue)

Veronica Swift is a woman of many voices, and she uses every one of them to refract a dizzying kaleidoscope of moods on This Bitter Earth, the follow-up to 2019’s Confessions. As on that earlier work, Swift digs deep into the American songbook to reveal new, often surprising truths.

For the opening title track, Swift sings in a sotto voce whisper, dripping with melancholia that implies that “the fruit it bears” is strange fruit, indeed. Swift’s balancing #MeToo-era irony and full-throated girliness on “How Lovely To Be A Woman,” the coy Ann-Margret hit from Bye, Bye Birdie, is a pure pleasure.

Elsewhere, the harsh truths of “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”—an object lesson on the roots of racism from South Pacific—seem even more chilling when Swift scats her way through lines like, “To hate all the people your relatives hate.” And in a real tour de force, the bandleader tackles the problematic lyric of “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” by turning the martial chords of The Crystals’ doo-wop hit into what it actually is: an excruciatingly bittersweet love song, caressed by the arpeggios of Armand Hirsch’s acoustic guitar.

Swift is a supernova. And the players who help manifest her vision make This Bitter Earth a musical bounty of depth and breadth.

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