Saturday, July 28, 2012

Swing Out Sister

The band's name was chosen because it was the only one they all agreed that they all hated it! Named for a 1945 film starring the late Arthur Treacher (yes,he started the fish and chips franchise, and yes again he was an actor.) Swing Out Sister, currently a duo, began as a trio made up of keyboardist Andy Connell, drummer Martin Jackson and vocalist Corinne Drewery. While Connell and Jackson were career musicians, Drewery was a fashion designer and model who happened to possess a remarkable alto voice. Along with producer Paul Stavely O'Duffy, the band signed with Mercury Records and released a single, "Blue Mood" in 1985 which failed to chart. Their next single, 1986's "Breakout" was a different story altogether, as the aptly named release went to #4 in the U.K. and to #6 on the U.S. Billboard charts. To follow is a performance of the song at the 1989 Prince's Trust Concert with the added attraction of Level 42's mighty Mark King on bass guitar.

When they released their debut LP, It's Better To Travel in 1987, It found its way to #1 on the U.K. album charts. This was due in no small part to the collection's blend of jazz and pop influences, real instruments combined with tasteful synthesizer effects and the smoky seduction of Drewery's voice. The bubbly "Breakout" was followed by the brooding "Surrender" and the jazzy "Twilight World".

Two Grammy nominations were earned by the group for Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Group Or Duo both for "Breakout" in 1988.
Significant changes accompanied the 1989 release of their second album Kaleidoscope World. Original member Jackson left the group during the album's production to pursue other projects, among them work with Frank Zappa. He was thanked in the liner notes for his contributions and his writing credits were plainly noted. This left Drewery and Connell as the core group from then on. Soundwise, the incorporation of an orchestra provided a much fuller sound overall and a perfect compliment to Drewery's voice. The album, with its easy-listening pop influences was rightly received well by critics as well as hitting the U.K. top 10.  Less synthesizer and more sophistication was the order of the day as evidenced by the album's lead-off single, the exquisite "You On My Mind".

More change was evident with the release of the group's next album, 1992's Get In Touch With Yourself. Visually speaking, Drewery grew out her trademark page boy hairstyle. I, for one missed that distinctive look and was glad when she brought it back, but musically this was made up for with this collection's 60s and 70s RnB influences. This offering was shot through with breezy danceable songs, not the least of which was a nicely executed cover of Barbara Acklin's classic "Am I The Same Girl ?". This was released as a single and became a crossover hit, enjoying heavy airplay on smooth jazz and adult contemporary radio. It went to #1 in the U.S. and would prove to be their last big  U.S. success chartwise.

The Living Return followed with more of the same, including a cover of the Delfonics' hit "La La Means I Love You", also rendered respectfully and confidently. The song was included on the soundtrack for the film Four Weddings And A Funeral.

Many albums followed, and while nothing ever matched their chart success in the Western countries, they became a huge success in Japan and other Eastern countries. The group's live tours remain popular to this day, with the group performing in a variety of formats, sometime as a small jazz combo, and other times as a big band and yet other occasions with a full orchestra. All the while they have been a smooth jazz radio staple. The year 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the group's first album, It's Better To Travel.

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