At the latter I was informal, at the former I wore my suit
The days of summer are waning (in theory; it’s still really warm in Saskatchewan right now) but it’s never too late for a terrific summer jam.
I’ve been playing Bruce Peninsula’s “The Swimming Song” since it was put up for free download by the band four months ago via SoundCloud as part of the band’s “Bruce Trail Fire Sale,” an effort to hand out some rare performances/tracks/videos to fans in the run-up to the release of their new record Open Flames (out in October, keep your eyes peeled for a review on this site). This cover is among them, a song originally written and performed by Loudon Wainwright III on his Amputated Moustache album (a record whose genius title is only surpassed by the genius cover art).
As far as covers go this is, admittedly, less of a drastic re-imagining and more of a faithful, albeit slightly tweaked, performance. The pace is only marginally slower, allowing band leader and lead singer Neil Haverty more time to showcase the delightful vocal melody. Originally sung by Wainwright and his then-wife Kate Mcarrigle, there are more than enough willing back-up and harmony vocalists in Bruce Peninsula’s 10 to 13 person line-up. Loudon and Kate’s double banjos are replicated here, augmented by some helpful acoustic guitar and a downright-ebullient bassline. The reduced tempo also allows the band to pick it up in the bridge, moving into double-time to increase the energy.
But you guys, why would they even need to? It’s a song about swimming! And it’s a brilliant one at that. Haverty takes Wainwright’s descriptions of summers spent lounging, breaststroking, and frollicking in every kind of watering hole you’ve ever imagined and wraps his smokey tenor, hoarse from years of hollerin’, around it. He holds the melody so tight it might as well be a length of rope tied to a tall tree branch that he’s using to swing into a lake. “Last summer I went swimming/in a reservoir and a pool,” he reminisces, “at the latter I was informal/at the former I wore my suit/I wore my swimming suit.” It’s wordplay of the highest order, a true storyteller’s lyric that holds up 38 years later and also sounds just at home coming from Haverty as it did from Wainwright.
So yeah, it’s just one song and it isn’t an original and whatever and who cares, but its a wonderful song any way you slice it and it’s more than enough to get me excited for another amazing Bruce Peninsula album (especially considering Haverty’s medical issues, which delayed the release). The hard part will be waiting until October. Perhaps I’ll pass the time by whiling away the remains of summer at the pool.