Music News & Reviews

Inga Swearingen searches for home in new album

Atascadero singer-songwriter Inga Swearingen celebrates the release of her new album, “Let Me Call This Home,” with a concert Aug. 27 at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts.
Atascadero singer-songwriter Inga Swearingen celebrates the release of her new album, “Let Me Call This Home,” with a concert Aug. 27 at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts.

As Inga Swearingen’s silken vocals spill from my stereo’s speakers, I settle in for a nice long listen.

Halfway through the opening track of Swearingen’s new album, however, I have to hit pause. Wait. What is that? I click the play button and my suspicions are confirmed: That island-flavored folk song is actually a cover of “Message in a Bottle” by The Police.

“Everybody has had that feeling of … (being) amongst a lot of people but you are completely alone,” says the Atascadero singer-songwriter, whose nuanced take on the reggae-rock classic captures the melancholy of Sting’s lyrics. “I have felt like that when I’ve moved to a new city and been the loneliest that I’ve ever been — but I’ve been surrounded by people all the time.”

In “Let Me Call This Home,” her first album in seven years, Swearingen explores the search for centeredness in a chaotic world. “That theme for me was so fitting for this whole album — what home means, and what it feels like to be connected or not connected,” she says.

Swearingen will celebrate the release of “Let Me Call This Home” with a concert Aug. 27 at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande. Every ticket comes with a copy of “Let Me Call This Home”; Swearingen will sign CDs in the lobby after the show.

"Find My Way" is a track from Atascadero singer-songwriter Inga Swearingen's new album, "Let Me Call This Home."

A fixture on the Central Coast music scene, Swearingen, 41, has appeared repeatedly on public radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” and performed locally with the likes of the San Luis Obispo Symphony, Orchestra Novo and Moira Smiley and VOCO. She teaches voice at her alma mater, Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.

According to Swearingen, her follow-up to her 2009 album, “First Rain,” was inspired by two major life events. She and her husband, water resources engineer Mladen Bandov, moved to her family’s farm in Atascadero in 2012; their son, Stellan, was born shortly afterward.

“I’m trying to create a sense of family in a little triad within a bigger family,” Swearingen explains.

In “Let Me Call This Home,” “I’m talking about my experience of home – my experience of being a daughter and a sister and a wife and a mother all in the same environment, every day. It’s a very wonderful, rich and challenging chapter,” she says, and one that “provides me with a lot of material to reflect on and learn from and grow from.”

Swearingen also explores the many meanings of “home,” she says, “whether it’s a person or it’s a place.”

“My family is certainly my home and the farm is my home and the view from our kitchen window down the pasture is home,” she says. “There’s such a yin and yang of love and comfort in that — and also such a desire to break free from that so that I can actually appreciate it and see it for how great it is.”

"April Afternoon" is a track from Atascadero singer-songwriter Inga Swearingen's 2009 album, "First Rain."

“Let Me Call This Home” finds Swearingen teaming up again with her “First Rain” collaborator, Los Angeles-based guitarist Jeff Miley.

“He’s very good at hearing a lot of different parts and coming up with melodies and chords that are very interesting musically but they don’t sound inaccessible to people,” she says, creating “little games that are so fun, musically, to perform.”

When the two work together, Swearingen adds, “He comes toward the middle with me a little bit, and (he) pulls me over (away from) the middle… to try some new things.”

In, “Let Me Call This Home,” Miley and Swearingen test their limits in ways both familiar and fresh. The result is six original songs and three innovative covers that blend the blues, gentle jazz and poignant yet playful pop.

In addition to “Message in a Bottle,” Swearingen puts her own spin on a lesser-known Eurythmics song, “This City Never Sleeps,” and blues classic “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” first recorded in 1966 by Ray Charles.

Guy Budd brought that song to me,” Swearingen says of “I Don’t Need No Doctor.”

While the blues rock guitarist’s take on the tune is “super-Muddy Waters, very Delta swampy and gritty,” Swearingen says, “The way we do it on this album is much more back-porch (blues) and not quite as gut.”

“That is the sign of such a sturdy song — that it can be performed in so many different ways,” says Swearingen, who sings and plays acoustic and resophonic guitar on “Let Me Call This Home.”

The album benefits from three-part harmonies among Swearingen, her sister, cajon player Britta Swearingen, and Miley, who plays banjo and assorted guitars. (He also mixed and produced much of the album.)

Also featured on “Let Me Call This Home” are drummer Joel Alpers, percussionist Brian Kilgore and bassists Dylan Johnson and Zac Matthews, as well as a handful of special guests. They include Budd, harmonia player Howard Levy, cellist Bob Liepman and saxophone player Aaron Wolf.

“Each one brings such magic,” Inga Swearingen says of her collaborators. “I could have never, ever written something as beautiful as what they played.”

Although not all of them will be able to join her in concert, “It will be a beautiful gathering of musicians,” Swearingen says. “People will come away from the experience feeling connected and having felt something.”

Inga Swearingen

7:30 p.m. Aug. 27

Clark Center for the Performing Arts, 487 Fair Oaks Ave., Arroyo Grande

$25, includes CD

805-489-9444 or www.clarkcenter.org

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