On his second CD, Swimming in Wind, Dan Smolla utilizes four-track textured garage-folk instrumentation, but speaks with the soul and song structure that is jazz. He states a theme, establishes the groove, and then goes as far out as Ornette Coleman or Eric Dolphy. Originally trained as a saxophone player, Smolla does play a good deal of early Van Morrison-styled sax parts throughout this CD. His free-form expression, however, does not take the form of instrumental improvisation, instead choosing to voice his passionate impulses in the form of hypnotic repetition via carefully warped layers of vocal cacophony. Smolla is an acquired taste in terms of vocal style (at times abrasive and stylized), production (ambitious bedroom recordings), and the already mentioned elaborate song structures. "Fields of Hope" pays tribute to a great Rolling Stones' riff, then spirals off into a good stretch of impassioned chanting. "Patterns" features a frantic jazz-pop snare beat with the sax as the lead instrument over vocal harmonies that emulate a horn section. In "Shining" Smolla sings "she comes down the river / here she comes in white / here she comes / she's been delivered / she's already in the sky" over a sweet, pulsating sax and Motown-styled guitar riff. "Lucky One" is the most accessible song on the album. Opting for acoustic folk instrumentation on this effortlessly melancholic melody, Smolla flexes his considerable lyrical muscles: "You got some shadow / To your flow / In the dark / I can see it glow / Don't know if it even matters / Don't know if it even could / Don't know if it even flatters / But baby it should." There are ultimately two albums happening here -- the duality often occurring within a single song. The core melodies and acoustic beds would make for a gritty and compelling folk-rock album, but Smolla feels a higher calling and purposefully leads the listener past the initial themes to his extended statements. Ultimately Swimming in Wind is a courageous effort, with grand ideals, from a desperate, compassionate, and hidden place.
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AllMusic Review by James Gerard