Featuring a variety of guest performers throughout, including Green on Red's Chris Cacavas, Juliana Hatfield, Steve Wynn, and a fair hunk of Poi Dog Pondering, Swerve features the then duo of Gelb and Convertino on a fine slew of songs. Recorded at a number of different locations, from Boston to Los Angeles, Swerve found Gelb reaching the ten-year point with his band in fantastic style. Starting with the brilliant stop-start electric guitar intro on "Can't Find Love" -- don't listen carefully and it sounds like the CD player's on the blink -- Gelb and Convertino and company hit the ground running. Gelb's fractured vision of roots music meets modern times sounded distinct and enjoyable enough at the time of Swerve's release, and still holds up excellently in later years. His ear for aggressively weird soloing in particular is just great (check "Dream Stay" for one of his best Neil Young nods yet), while his straight playing remains quite accomplished. Gelb's friendly twang, once again, is a treat, able to convey emotion and humor in the same sly turn of phrase. Quieter songs are no less off-kilter, with Convertino's ear for odd percussion playing and time signatures turning, for instance, the lounge jazz (years before the revival) mania of "Swerver" into something the likes of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies couldn't dream of. The swerve theme carries through a number of brief tracks throughout the album, all entertaining little jams that keep things agreeably light. Total standouts include the wry country'n'swing of "Some Kind Of," "Trickle Down System," as good an anthemic Band tribute as any, and a version of "Every Grain of Sand" that's simply inspiring, one of the best Bob Dylan covers recorded. Then there's the perfectly screwy "Former Version of Ourselves," which veers from everything from solo synth moodiness to finger-poppin' Vegas to more familiar Giant Sand fusions and back again, and makes it all work to boot.
by Ned Raggett