When Katie Schottland started Swimming Bell, she was living in New York City. We first spoke literally on the precipice of the pandemic – the date on our interview reads 16th March, 2020. What was coming was certainly not top of mind, but shortly after we met, she relocated across the country to Los Angeles as a result and began work on what would become her stunning second LP, Charlie.
Through the last few years, Schottland has been quietly crafting a collection of tightly-orchestrated Americana songs that would make artists like Jeff Tweedy and Emmylou Harris grin with approval. The soundscapes are lush, the harmonies are delicate and the instrumentation is delightfully sparse.
Despite clocking in at just over five minutes, ‘For Al and Lee’ stands out as an obvious lead single, oozing with alt-country authenticity. Written as a blessing for two of her closest friends, the arrangement is warm and inviting. It’s a perfect example of the old four-chords-and-the-truth standby, and it succeeds with flying colours. ‘May the road that you walk down lead to all the things that you love / May the road that you find be the right one / May your songs be sung…’ goes the chorus, delivering a welcome taste of hopefulness in an often bitter world.
Elsewhere, ‘Take it Easy’ waltzes through a lilting backdrop reminiscent of a mountainous landscape a la Laurel Canyon. ‘Born Wild’ starts off with a lone vocal before gently building to a folksy shuffle, all centred around the lyric, ‘My heart isn’t broken, it’s on fire…’, which seems like a perfect tagline for the album as a whole.
Schottland switches things up mid-sequence by putting her spin on ‘Fly Like an Eagle’, but not the one you and I immediately think of (thank goodness). While easily the weakest song in the bunch, it is nice to hear a modern artist tackle a song from over 50 years ago and make it her own. It’s also a testament to her songwriting that it’s outshined by the songs that surround it.
Charlie is littered with both emotion and motion – Schottland being something of a wanderlust at heart, if our aforementioned 2020 conversation was any indicator, it’s no wonder the ten tracks on her second LP sound like traveling songs. The open road is a bit of an obvious comparison, but they also would pair equally nicely with an introspective trip to Joshua Tree, a drive through New England or just a summer’s night laying beneath the stars.
Schottland has refered to Charlie as a time capsule, one that contains a full breadth of emotions. It’s an apt dscriptor, as it’s difficult not to hear each song as a deeply personal reflection – a journal entry of sorts. It’s a rare treat to be given such a strong new release this early in the year but Charlie has delivered. Needless to say, it’s well worth your time.
HAIKU REVIEW: Swimming Bell’s ‘Charlie’ Is lush and introspective; Apt for wanderers