If you go to iTunes to purchase the music from Swati's record, Small Gods, you will find that all the songs are labeled "Explicit." In iTunes language this usually means that the songs contain words that are considered unfit for Junior. Yet some contain no words that couldn't be found in the proverbial family newspaper. It is not that iTunes' warning is unwarranted; Swati would be the first to admit that she is a potty-mouth, and most of her songs are full of "bad" language that we all use daily (okay maybe not you, Mr. Seminary Student) but that rarely appears in music other than rap. However, that is only part of the story.
If you check Merriam-Webster, you will find: ex·plic·it adjective 1. a) fully revealed or expressed without vagueness, implication, or ambiguity: leaving no question as to meaning or intent. b) open in the depiction of nudity or sexuality. 2) fully developed or formulated. 3) unambiguous in expression. 4) of a mathematical function: defined by an expression containing only independent variables. All of these definitions better describe the experience that is Swati--except maybe the mathematical one (if I knew what it meant I could tell for certain). Her music is straight from the gut, hides behind no veils, and pulls no punches.
Though labeled explicit, "Blackjack" contains no "language," as they call it in the movie ratings. Instead it is a direct, first person, unambiguous tale of picking up a prostitute in Atlantic City, not so much for sex but for the illusion of unconditional love. Swati calls her "ma'am," so yes, the singer/songwriter/guitarist identifies gay, but that seems somehow beside the point. In the face of this much talent, the issue of sexual orientation goes by the wayside; what is left is the depths of universal feeling that Swati is willing to plumb so that we can achieve release from our own loneliness and heartache. This catharsis is granted by her refusal to whine or wallow in self-pity, and by the way she breaks through the pain with soaring vocals and brilliant guitar work.
As to "nudity or sexuality," while her cover of Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" contains no more obscenities than The Boss' version (none), it is way more naked and emotionally explicit. It leaves you feeling that while he may have written "Someone took a knife, edgy and dull, and cut a six inch valley through the middle of my soul," she really understands it.
Swati plays an 8-string acoustic/electric guitar through delay, distortion, filter, and wah-wah pedals, setting up rhythms and textures that add to the urgency of her music. On "Big Bang," she creates polyrhythms that are at once driving and atmospheric. Dramatically switching to half time for the chorus, she forges an anthemic feel worthy of U2. Recently deemed one of 50 under-recognized guitarists by Guitar Player magazine, her unique technique--sort of Ani DiFranco meets The Edge--has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
In fact, to get the complete Swati experience, you really need to go see her. Small Gods is a gem of a record, but live it becomes evident that this woman is a star of the first magnitude. It has been years since I have seen someone rule a stage like this: giving away nothing vocally to the demands of her guitar pyrotechnics, her performance controlled without being safe. With or without a band, she commands attention. This is not comfort food for the post 9/11 jitters. Swati is no anodyne, to be consumed as background music for an upwardly mobile lifestyle. She picks at the scabs so they leave scars, reminding you not to go there again; she is in your face, and dangerous, and worth it. • Michael Ross