Though Alive has recently reissued several of Swamp Dogg’s classic albums (including Total Destruction to Your Mind, Rat On and Gag a Maggot), as well as his work with Irma Thomas and Sandra Phillips, this is their first opportunity to release new material. And forty years after the landmark Total Destruction, Swamp Dogg’s brand of humorous social commentary remains as potently entertaining and educational as ever. That’s because the social, racial and gender issues of the 1970s haven’t gone away, and Swamp Dogg’s eyes and tongue are still sharp.
The title track lays down James Brown styled funk, but Soul Brother No. 1 never laid down a philosophical position as direct, quirkily self-reflective and far-reaching as “The White Man Made Me Do It.” Swamp Dogg manages to simultaneously curse slavery and celebrate the heroes that emerged in its wake, all to a catchy chorus chant and deep dance groove. The groove turns to Family Stone-styled soul (complete with a brief “listen to the voices” breakdown) for “Where is Sly” and low-down for a strutting cover of Leiber and Stoller’s “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”
At 72, Swamp Dogg still has an ambivalent relationship with women, serenading on “Hey Renae” and a cover of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” castigating on “Lying, Lying, Lying Woman,” and humorously apologizing to his stepdaughters in the liner notes. But contradictions, or perhaps more accurately, colorful positions on complex subjects, have always been part of Swamp Dogg’s charm. Swamp Dogg sings side by side of a satisfied life (“I’m So Happy”) and ruminates on “What Lonesome Is,” showing that every coin in his pocket has at least two sides.
On balance, Swamp Dogg seems happy with the life he’s led. He may joke about his lack of popular acclaim, but where there might be bitterness you’ll find belief. Belief in his music, belief in his principles, and despite the social ills he’s cataloged over the years, belief that things have, can and will improve. “America’s sick, and it needs a doctor quick,” he sings in “Light a Candle… Ring a Bell,” but his roll call of the housing crisis’ bad actors is both an outpouring of frustration and a call to more responsible behavior. Swamp Dogg’s been calling it like he sees it since his 1970 debut, and in 2014 he still finds plenty to call.
Release note: The U.S. edition of this title is a 14-track single disc on Swamp Dogg’s S.D.E.G. label. Outside the U.S. this title includes a bonus disc of Swamp Dogg performances (including the landmark “Synthetic World”) and productions, featuring cuts by Sandra Phillips (“Rescue Me”), Lightning Slim (“Good Morning Heartaches”), Irma Thomas (“In Between Tears”), Charlie “Raw Spitt” Whitehead (“Read Between the Lines”), Z.Z. Hill (“It Ain’t No Use”), Doris Duke (“To the Other Woman (I’m the Other Woman)”) and Wolfmoon (“What is Heaven For”). The two CD edition (in a tri-fold digipack) can be found domestically on the Bomp website. [©2015 Hyperbolium]