In 1970 the Southern soul music maverick Jerry Williams, Jr. made the most radical move of his career. Frustrated with music business politics Williams reinvented himself as Swamp Dogg, an irreverent anti-hero smashing the conventions of commercial R&B music. Swamp Dogg’s debut release Total Destruction to Your Mind featured a post-apocalyptic take on the Muscle Shoals’ sound, with lyrics inspired by the revolutionary politics and psychedelic drugs of the late ‘60s. The music on Total Destruction to Your Mind stood worlds apart from the formulaic pop tunes Williams started cutting in 1954 under the name Little Jerry, and Swamp Dogg hasn’t looked back since.
Now, nearly fifty years after his debut release, Swamp Dogg stands on the precipice of another radical reinvention. His latest creation is titled Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune a nine song collection featuring production by Poliça’s Ryan Olson. Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune finds Swamp Dogg’s bluesy southern soul colliding head-on with 21st Century electronic music production techniques.
The reference to Auto-Tune in the title is not incidental, the album’s sound is built around Swamp Dogg’s experimentation with the ubiquitous vocal processor. While Auto-Tune has become a fixture of the modern pop music landscape, this is Swamp Dogg’s first major exploration of the device. “Every time I listen to some new music that everybody thinks is the greatest thing since hot biscuits, it's full of Auto-Tune,” Swamp Dogg says. His use of Auto-Tune technology is not gratuitous. Like Kanye West on 808s & Heartbreak, Swamp Dogg utilizes the cold digital tone of Auto-Tune to convey a sense of emotional detachment during the album’s most anguished moments.
"The songs are about being lonely,” Swamp Dogg says of Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune. The feeling of loneliness is particularly palpable on the hauntingly beautiful “I’ll Pretend,” which features vocals from Justin Vernon. Swamp Dogg describes the song as a character study about “a guy sitting in a restaurant by himself losing his fucking mind because he’s hoping his woman is gonna walk by, but she's at a Ramada Inn somewhere fucking somebody else to death."
Despite the record’s overriding theme of loss, Swamp Dogg’s warped sense of humor is still intact. Let’s remember that we’re talking about an artist who released a “greatest hits” album in 1976 filled entirely with new songs! Swamp’s comic side is evident on “$$$ Hunting,” which rolls out with a funky Zapp-like bounce. There’s also “Sex With Your Ex,” where Swamp Dogg extols the benefits of the song’s title theme over random bursts of feedback and noise.
Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune is a gem, a unique and unpredictable moment in the life of a unique and unpredictable artist that some consider a national treasure.