With This Bitter Earth, 26-year-old Veronica Swift casts aside her designated trajectory as the next great up-and-coming pure-jazz singer to embrace something grander, more pop-oriented and profound. The daughter of late pianist Hod O’Brien, Swift belted her first album out of the club as a precocious nine-year-old. Four albums later, Confessions cemented her rep as a jazz lioness with a pure tone, large lungs, a knowing sense of repertoire, and sure swing style. JazzTimes readers rewarded her with 2019 Best New Artist and Best Vocal Release poll wins.
Perhaps more naturally than everyone’s current favorite, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Swift occupies classic standards like a young Anita O’Day. But This Bitter Earth finds her pushing beyond cloistered jazz boundaries, recalling the sunny, big-throated readings of Eydie Gormé allied to the sincerity and tone of Broadway vocalist Jessie Mueller. She still thrills with Songbook nuggets (“As Long as He Needs Me,” “The Man I Love”), but restless as any 20-something vocalist aware of Lady Gaga and Billie Eilish, Swift shows her further ambitions in non-ironic takes of Goffin and King’s “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” and the Ann-Margret vehicle “How Lovely to Be a Woman.” She boldly addresses the songs as they were intended—which is arguably a gutsier stance on pre-feminist material than that of Salvant, who revels in overturning a song’s intended meaning.
Elsewhere, “Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong” rescues the cha-cha from semi-obscurity, while “Prisoner of Love” is languorous and rich, Swift wrapping herself around the melody like a Broadway diva. The gently unfurling “Sing” closes the record and returns Swift to what she does best, enchanting the listener with whispered caresses and elastic phrases that are as powerful as they are enticing.