Jazz isn’t a genre covered frequently on this website and the combination of Bill Swift Trio with Drenda Barnett is so obscure – even by jazz standards – there are only two listings for the ensemble on the authoritative music website Discogs.

I discovered this tune purely by chance. It appears on a mixtape (for want of a better word) put together by noted Californian DJ and Stones Throw label stalwart J-Rocc. On said mixtape, J-Rocc races through a mix of about 25 songs reissued by the potent British label Jazzman.

I can’t even remember how I got this J-Rocc vs Jazzman set, but I’m eternally grateful I was exposed to it.

The Bill Swift Trio was a largely unknown Texas lounge band, who like many of lounge/jazz bands of that era, plugged away at their trade, playing primarily cover versions and never achieving any notable success. They performed in and around Fort Worth through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, with their one album – recorded in 1972 – funded by a pilot passing through town. That album is extremely hard to find and changes hands for several hundred US dollars.

Now, I generally loathe cover versions because – with a few exceptions – they’ve always struck me as, well, a bit of a rip off.  And I’ve always felt there are too many very average covers bands which are generally mainstream pub fodder for Steinlager-swilling sausage-scoffing Kiwis who soak up what rubbish commercial radio stations blast out on the regular. And I live in Hamilton – enough said.

Bill Swift Trio and Drenda Barrett is as far from those average pub covers bands as you can get, and that’s based on two aspects: 1) the fact Bill and his trio are actually superb musicians, and 2) Drenda is a wonderful vocalist.

On this three-track reissue EP, Bill, Drenda and the rest of the team deliver absolutely superb renditions of three cuts – Aretha Franklin’s well-known  tune Day Dreaming (1972, re-titled Day Dreamin’ here), the huge hit Chain of Fools (written for Aretha by Don Covay, and originally released in 1967), and the old school jazz cut Why Do You Do Me This Way.

And although Bill and the trio are super-slick as they serve up a funky uptempo minimalist jazz, it’s Drenda who really shines. She has a fabulous rich voice, genuine vocal power and a way of expressing the emotion and energy of the songs in a way Aretha would be proud of. Somewhat surprisingly, she’s white – you could honestly be forgiven for thinking she’s African American.

Day Dreamin’ is the clear highlight and the reason I went to the extent of privately importing a copy of this 12″. It’s quicker and more potent than Aretha’s original, with Drenda showcasing her range and the band keeping up heroically as the tempo and energy of the cut slowly build until it reaches a foot-stomping fist-pumping sing-along crescendo. It is utterly fantastic, and I don’t say that about too many songs… let alone cover versions.

Since my EP arrived, I’ve played this Day Dream’ pretty frequently in my DJ sets. A number of people have gone to the trouble of asking me what it is. Some have been truly blown away by what Bill, Drenda and the team serve up. With its repeated chorus “Hey baby, let’s get away, let’s go somewhere…. where I don’t care,” it is a real head-turner.

And rightly so. This is a great EP, a crucial mix of jazz, funk and soul – and one of the best records I’ve bought in 5 years.

If you’ve got any interest in those genre of music, this is a must-have.

More info:
Jazzman Records
Chain of Fools – Discogs

Jeff Neems

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