Far too many bands utilize the human voice in one of two ways: to get a message across -- whereby meaning trumps sound -- or as an instrument in and of itself -- whereby sound trumps meaning. But Mecca Normal's Jean Smith, who is also a novelist, has stories to tell and the instantly arresting means to get them across. In that sense, she's a bit like Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker -- but with even more of an edge -- and with a greater emphasis on folk than rock & roll. At times on The Family Swan, as in the song "What About the Boy," she comes across more like a punk poet than a singer (à la '70s-era Patti Smith); on others, as in "In January," her voice is as much an instrument as partner David Lester's eclectic electric guitar (à la Laurie Anderson or Sheila Chandra at their most avant-garde). Either way, she's always impassioned, never complacent -- even after over 20 years "on the job" (as it were). This can make for an uneasy, unsettling experience -- like reading a book by Virginia Woolf instead of Jane Austen or watching a movie by Catherine Breillat instead of Nora Ephron -- but a richly rewarding experience for the more adventurous, open-minded listener.
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AllMusic Review by Kathleen C. Fennessy