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Swing Out Sister

Swing Out Sister are a sophisticated pop duo from the U.K. Singer Corinne Drewery and multi-instrumentalist/arranger Andy Connell's sound ranges across jazz, classic, and modern pop, hooky EDM, and synth pop. 1987's It's Better to Travel hit the top spot on the British album charts. 1989's cinematic Kaleidoscope World resonated in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. The group expanded their fan base with 1992's Get in Touch with Yourself, 1994's The Living Return, and 1996's Shapes and Patterns. 1999's Filth and Dreams flirted with samba, trip-hop, and EDM while 2005's Where Our Love Grows wove jazzy orchestral charts amid slick studio production. 2008's Beautiful Mess reached the Top Five on the American jazz charts, while 2012's Private View showcased acoustic versions of their hits. 2018's Almost Persuaded went to number seven in the U.S. In 2022, the eight-disc Blue Mood, Breakout and Beyond was released. It compiled albums, singles, and remixes. Swing Out Sister began as a studio-based partnership between keyboardist Andy Connell (A Certain Ratio) and drummer Martin Jackson (Magazine) in 1985. The duo were producing electro tracks for Morgan Khan's Streetwise label and attained underground success. This activity triggered interest from Phonogram/Mercury Records. Connell approached Diane Charlemagne of Brit-funk outfit 52nd Street to sing on the demos. These recordings succeeded in securing a contract for Connell and Jackson. Charlemagne's involvement ended when 52nd Street left Factory Records for Virgin. Nottingham-born Corinne Drewery was a fashion designer and model. After moving to London in 1977, she attended Central St. Martin's with a certain Sade Adu. Drewery had no professional musical experience. She met Connell by chance at the Hacienda Club just after the band had completed their demos and signed with Phonogram. They discovered a shared love for vintage Blue Note and Riverside jazz, the scores of John Barry and Ennio Morricone, the funky Brazilian fusion of Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, the high-class pop of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the sweeping cinematic soul of Isaac Hayes and David Porter, Motown, Stax/Volt, and singers Dionne Warwick, Nina Simone, and Dusty Springfield. After a brief audition, Connell and Jackson invited her to be a full member -- just in time to release their official first single, "Blue Mood," late that year. The trio chose their name from a 1940s-era Billie Burke musical they all hated. The single didn't do much, but its follow-up, 1986's "Breakout," was a Top Ten hit in Great Britain and Japan. The trio belatedly completed It's Better to Travel in 1987; its U.S. release scored a pair of chart hits with "Breakout" and "Twilight World" as well as a pair of Grammy nominations. The singles "Blue Mood," "Surrender," "Twilight World" accounted for the long-player peaking at number one at home and selling across the globe. Following British, European, and U.S. tours, Jackson became a partial contributor to 1989's Kaleidoscope World. Produced by Paul Staveley O’Duffy, who also co-wrote several songs, Connell arranged all but two selections, the gorgeous "Forever Blue" and "Precious Words"; the charts for both were penned by American composer Jimmy Webb. The singles "You On My Mind," and "Waiting Game" were U.K. hits. In Japan, however, both albums were successful enough to warrant a Japanese-only collection of remixes, Another Non-Stop Sister, was released in late 1989, followed by the similar Swing 3 in 1990, that also collected early B-sides and rarities, setting in place the group's love for diverse compilations. Buoyed by their success at radio, on records and in concert, Drewery and Connell set out to create a highly individualized sound that reflected all their influences inside a modern yet classically wrought take on sophisti-pop free from the scene's current trends. Released in 1992, Get in Touch with Yourself returned Drewery and Connell (sans Jackson) to the U.S. and U.K. charts with a cover of Barbara Acklin's "Am I the Same Girl," a '60s-era pop hit based on the famous instrumental "Soulful Strut" by Young-Holt Unlimited. The single was even bigger in Japan, where Swing Out Sister were now among the most popular acts in the country. Another remix compilation, Swing Out Singles, along with Live at the Jazz Cafe, were released in Japan that year. 1992's Get in Touch with Yourself followed with a more soulful feel. Its original songs nodded in the direction of Blaxploitation soundtracks by Johnny Pate, Oliver Nelson, and Bobby Womack; to that end it included a stellar cover of Barbara Acklin's "Am I the Same Girl." lt also featured a remix collaboration with Frankie Knuckles on "Notgonnachange, resulting in a dancefloor hit. The set topped the adult contemporary chart in the U.S., but failed to chart in Great Britain. Following sold-out tours of Japan and the U.S., Swing Out Sister released 1994's upbeat, funky The Living Return. Produced by Ray Hayden (Opaz Records), the set offered a rawer, looser, more soulful, streetwise sound featuring members of the band's touring ensemble. The album's first single was a righteous cover of the Delfonics' "La-La Means I Love You" -- it was also included in the soundtrack to the hit film Four Weddings and a Funeral. One of the group's finest albums, it charted only in Japan. The U.K. office of Mercury Records issued 1996's The Best of Swing Out Sister yet declined to release 1997's stellar, groundbreaking Shapes and Patterns. O'Duffy returned as producer and brought in a large cast of singers and players including the London Sessions Orchestra. Its single, "Now You're Not Here," charted, won a Japanese Grand Prix award (their industry equivalent of the Grammy), and was used in a Japanese television series. Its sound employs complex vocal charts and harmonies -- evidenced wonderfully on a cover of Laura Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic." While the long-player didn't chart anywhere else, it was a Top Ten hit in Japan. 1999's Filth and Dreams is widely regarded as the most atypical album in SOS's catalog. It followed a period where the duo was exploring musical directions they never got the chance to bring to fruition, including darker sounds from trip-hop, hip hop, and drum & bass. That vibe, combined with more intimate, yet immediate vocal production, organic-sounding loops, and an abundance of Brazilian and Latin harmonies and rhythms -- evidenced by the title cut and the poignant, airy "Happy When You're High" -- offered a different side of SOS. It charted in Japan -- the only country it was issued in, but was so difficult to find, most fans have yet to hear it in full. Some of its songs, including the singles and "World Out of Control," were concert favorites for a long while. The group's appetite for experimentation was far from sated, however. 2001's Somewhere Deep in the Night offered a wide range of haunting vocal harmonies set in soaring string arrangements that owed an unapologetic debt to film composers such as Michel LeGrande, Francis Lai, and Pierre Barouh. It offered several instrumental tracks showcasing Connell's arrangements. Issued in England, Japan, and Europe, its singles, including "Where the Hell Did I Go Wrong," the Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood-esque "Will We Find Love" (complete with a dreamy harpsichord), and the sweeping, hallucinatory title track were far too adventurous to chart. Following a pair of world tours, SOS moved to EMI for 2004's Where Our Love Grows, their eighth album. Its optimistic, upbeat retro sound combined jazz, soul, Latin, Brazilian, and Philadelphia International-flavored R&B. GQ's review called it "indisputably their finest record to date." The single, "When the Laughter Is Over," sampled both Herbie Mann and Roger Nichols. Though it didn't chart it remains a fan favorite. They followed it with Live in Japan a year later. Swing Out Sister returned to their London studio and commenced writing and recording. They were so deeply engaged in the process that they canceled a 2006 U.S. tour. They composed and released the serial music for the pilot episode of the ITV1 drama The Outsiders, but the series was canceled after the pilot episode. In August 2007, SOS issued the single "Secret Love," co-written by ex-Mott the Hoople keyboardist Morgan Fisher. That December, two pre-release singles, "Butterfly Lullaby" and "Something Every Day," were issued digitally. On February 27, 2008, Beautiful Mess, the band's first self-produced album, was issued in Japan. It was released in the U.K. in August, and in the U.S. in May 2009 by Shanachie. Melding elegantly soulful grooves and complex vocal arrangements, with vocal and songwriting collaborations with longtime backing singer Gina Foster, it showcased the duo's touring group in the studio. Across 2008 and 2009, they returned to the road, playing Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines. Following that tour, Swing Out Sister had planned a North American jaunt. They spent three weeks rehearsing organic new arrangements of their favorite songs, some older, some newer, none of which had been performed this way in America. Unfortunately, a long-dormant volcano in Iceland erupted two days before they were supposed to travel and scuttled their plans. Afraid these versions would just disappear, they decided to record the material. Connell added some extra arrangements and did some remixing. The finished collection sat on the shelf for a year. Worried it would continue to languish, SOS issued the album as Private View in 2012 exclusively through their Facebook page. A deluxe edition with extra material from the sessions was bundled with a DVD and released through standard channels in 2013. Over the next two years, SOS toured England, Europe, Japan, and Asia. In late 2016 the group created a unique crowd-funding project to finance the recording of their tenth studio album; they let fans participate in the writing and recording processes. After completing the recording and mixing -- it went through several changes before it was deemed presentable by SOS -- Almost Persuaded was officially released in June 2018, more than a decade after Beautiful Mess. After Kaleidoscope World, it is widely considered the duo's most cinematic album. Apparently, North American fans agreed, it peaked at number seven on the jazz album charts. In August 2022, London's Cherry Red label released Blue Mood, Breakout and Beyond: The Early Years, Pt. 1. A deluxe, eight-disc box set, it included remastered editions of SOS's first three studio albums and Live at the Jazz Cafe. Discs five through seven contained various mixes and remixes, while disc eight offered B-sides plus radio and club edits. The lushly packaged object included a booklet with full track annotation, a liner essay and interviews with current and former members by writer/blogger Paul Sinclair, and original artwork by Drewery. The box was released as SOS were recording their first big-band album.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo


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