||Praise for Monkey Comfort:
Ferlinghetti. Scrap Kerouac!
South Australian Blues Society
"This latest CD "Monkey Comfort" is the best that I have heard from Penelope Swales. A double CD well worth trying, you will not be disappointed. My tracks "Limestone" and Antarctica", but to understand what songwriting is all about "Farewell Margaret"
David Long Radio Adelaide 101.5 "Folk Show"
All references and comparisons go out of the window when faced with a unique talent. Penelope Swales is a contemporary singer/songwriter from Melbourne, and is such a talent. 'Monkey Comfort' came out in 2003, an album that is the culmination of a ten year recording history that began with 1993's 'Between Light And Dark'. It's a double CD, one CD titled 'Natural World' and the other 'Physical World'.
In total it constitutes quite some masterpiece. There are essentially three elements to Penelope's music. Firstly, there is Penelope's superb voice, which is pure without being fragile, strong without ever becoming strident, and powerfully driven without ever turning her songs into mere harangues. It's also very sexy! The second element is her fine acoustic guitar backing and melodic sense, aided by Barry Hill on double bass and Mal Webb on gourd bass.
You could derive endless pleasure from simply listening to the melodies of Penelope's voice and guitar. That would be to miss the quite wonderful lyrics that make up the third element. It's tempting to fill a review with line after terrific line of lyrics, a combination of a humanistic philosophy that leads her to declare "I don't find my insignificance frightening", and perceptive commentaries on the many social and personal issues that concern us all.
Penelope dissects personal relationships as well as political hot potatoes with unerring precision. Every track here is a positive goldmine of great moments and lines, but some do strike me with more power than others. The title track to the 'Natural World' CD makes a great point that there was a reason why mankind sought to control the natural world, and although Penelope declares her love for it she provides the perfect riposte for those intent on getting 'back to the garden' as the answer to all our problems. It's not. We have "the powers of gods in the hands of children" and must use them wisely. Following on from the title track is 'The Raven And The Phoenix', a gorgeously melodic allegory that doesn't give up its meaning easily, but demands repeated listening, as indeed does the entire album.
Comfort' itself, with its comments about Penelope's partner
having "bones so breakable, flesh
so bruisable", could,
in the light of the theme of the album, be about our planet, and not just
one person. We are, after all, "no
more important, no less essential,
than any bat, bug, monkey or bacteria…"
It's all life on the planet. There are plenty of other great tracks: 'Spit
A Rat' is a wonderful exploration of a relationship gone awry; 'Tell
Me Now' has a terrific accapella vocal; 'Limestone' is a more
gently drifting song that is no less appealing for that.
The 'Physical World' CD has two of the album's strongest tracks. 'Farewell Margaret' is a lament for a 98 year old 'Grannie' that is so affecting without ever being sentimental, it could bring tears to your eyes, especially with its poignant refrain "how little we leave behind!" "Everything that we deem irrelevant will be discarded," declares Penelope, giving the answer to all those who've ever wondered why some people destroy diaries, journals and private items; they will never answer the question 'who were we?' to those who come to own them after we're gone. It is a brilliant, unflinchingly honest song.
Equally exceptional, in a different way, is 'Safe Home', which is that rarity, a great song about 9/11 and its aftermath, the hysteria of the West, who make "no mention of lives lost through US foreign policy". "Why are American lives so much more precious?" asks Penelope, and, while mourning the tragedy, lets no one off the hook, especially not George Bush, "beating on the Bible", a man who "didn't even get a majority in his much touted Land of the Free". "Could we resist payback compulsion?" she asks. No, and more people forget what 'Safe Home' means. It's a chilling and powerful song in every way, all the more effective for the strength of the vocal delivery.
Elsewhere, the 'Physical World' CD has its lighter moments. '20 Summers (Over You By Tuesday)' tells the tale of Penelope's passion for a younger man, a "big boy, big and sweet and dark!" 'Antarctica' is rather more poppy than the rest, with a catchy chorus and some fine acoustic guitar that did rather remind me of Al Stewart's fine work on songs such as 'Roads To Moscow'. The final song, 'Once More Into Flower' is a touching eulogy to Penelope's partner. "It's true that the world is dangerous," she says, but "the world has always been dangerous!"
in a way, sums up the theme of the album: we live in a world that is as
brutal and savage as it is beautiful, but it has its compensations in those
we love and who love us. Would we choose to be born at any other time? Penelope
wouldn't, and I suspect neither would most of us. Any nit picking? Well, I
find the cover a little inappropriate, making its point rather too heavily.
Also, occasionally in her eagerness to get across what she wants to say, Penelope's words come out in too rapid a jumble, but their meaning is never
lost. In fact, going back a long long time, before the present age where
superficiality often reigns, the burning question made of any artist was:
did they have anything to say? In Penelope
Swale's case the answer
is a resounding yes! The fact that she says it with such a fine voice is, in
the end, the icing on a wonderful cake! (S.D.)
The outstanding Penelope Swales was once asked to
name a product she might be willing to endorse.
This independent singer-songwriter is passionate about the environment. And social justice, greed, corruption, genetic engineering and a heap of things you may expect of a contemporary folk artist. What sets her apart is a compelling performing talent, honed over a decade or so of playing concerts and festivals around the world, and a wicked sense of humour to match her frankness. The exuberant Swales is a great acoustic guitarist, bold songwriter and spectacular vocalist in the style of Ani Di Franco or Michelle Shocked. Here she delivers 16 gems, a stunning tour of moods and emotions not only for the folkies. Swales has enough power to touch anyone.
Trad And Now - The Australian-wide folk Magazine celebrating culture, community and creativity.
June 2003 Review by Jim MacQuarrie, "NewSouthFolk"
A double taste of some of the best writing I have heard for quite sometime. From the way that this double CD has been packaged, to the graphics and down to the actual content, shows Penelope's very professional and polished approach to her music. Very much a solo album with very little influence form other musos, although Barry Hill on Double Bass, Mal Webb just being Mal Webb, and Stephen Swales with some input, make this a product very much for the shelves/archives/home library. A fantastic blend of musical ability and writing dexterity. Well, after that statement there is nothing really to be said
Barfly Magazine - Entertainment Cairns - four stars
Review by Steve Baker
Penelope Swales is a modern day Australian troubadour, a wry but passionate commentator on our small planet and the small bipeds who think they run it. She works both solo and with Totally Gourdgeous, a seriously entertaining band of top-flight musicians who play instruments fashioned from gourds made by Penelope Swales. Swales is a guitarist/singer/songwriter/luthier. Her new solo album is a formidable achievement. It signals a mature woman and an artist with a humanist eye and one with formidable courage and skill. If the personal is political then here's the proof. Monkey Comfort is very strongly tinged by our increasingly harried environmental and political state. The songs are long ballads in blank verse accompanied by strong guitar work, amplified by the use of a sampler box. 'Farewell Margaret', a sad but hopeful song about the last years of an old friend is superb. 'Natural World', featuring a nice guitar riff, moves Swales onto the environmental issues she is very concerned about. 'The Raven And The Phoenix' tells the true story of a little girl who was burned badly and especially how her mother and her loving friends looked her after. 'Limestone' is lyrical and thoughtful. Available from www.penelopeswales.com
- Steve Baker
Rhythms Magazine - May 2003. Review by Sue Barrett
"People like to idolise the natural world, but the natural world is just as savage as the human race."
Singer/songwriter Penelope Swales is frank, passionate and distinctly Australian...
Her double CD Monkey Comfort is an outstanding collection of songs written by Swales, plus three songs written or co-written by other people.
The lyrics (which are both complex and simple) reflect upon human nature and human experiences (both personal and political) with insight and compassion. And there are many memorable lines, some of which are almost separate stories in themselves - "The Raven and the Phoenix" (but maybe there's more dangerous scars hidden in behind many eyes); "Spit a Rat" (trust is a mixture of respect and grace. Can't be forced and it can't be faked. And I'm not gonna tell ya that I trust you are you hearing that? Not as far as I could spit a rat.); "Farewell Margaret" (What can be sadder, stranger or more poignant than the rooms in which someone has lived. What can be harder, more arrogant, or more necessary than to clean those rooms out to make way for other lives).
An interesting thing about Swales' rhythmic tunes is that, while they aren't necessarily recallable individually, there is a distinct Swales sound and once a tune starts it is instantly recognisible. And, of course, the songs are only part of the story - go to any Penelope Swales concert and you will find most songs or song-cycles accompanied by a spellbinding spoken-word introduction.
One of the bonuses of the album is the sound captured by engineer/producer Siiri Metsar, whose work with Swales stretches back nearly a decade (the Girl Zone - One compilation and Swales' Returning on Foot).
In addition to Swales - on guitar, beatbox (vocal percussion), stompbox and sampling pedal - support on the album includes Barry Hill on double bass and Swales' Totally Gourdgeous colleague Mal Webb on gourd bass and beatbox.
Monkey Comfort is Penelope Swales at her very best.
- Sue Barrett
The Age Green Guide - Melbourne 17/7/03 - four stars
Penelope Swales is the archetypal troubadour, an impassioned Melbourne singer-songwriter who, guitar in hand, performs music that should probably be heard live for it's full force to be appreciated. But as she's busy touring elsewhere most of the time (next stop the United States), most of us will experience this new, self produced double CD at home. Her percussive solo guitar is backed principally by Barry Hill's booming double bass, and the 16 powerful tracks range from whimsical to lusty explorations of nature - human and animal - laced with street-smarts. In her teens, Swales was a homeless busker; now she is a performer-cum-raconteur on songs such as Natural World - part celebratory, part cautionary - contrasting with the sensual delights of Physical World or the downright distrustful Spit a Rat.
- Mike Daly
What the critics have to say........
The Midnight Oil of females has just returned in a pickup truck loaded
She sang her heart out. It broke ours.
Obviously talented....an Australian cross between Ani Di franco and
"Amazing" is one adjective that springs to mind. As well as her envious
She is one of the handful of performers capable of consistently pulling
Penelope Swales has definitely found her ouwn distinct sound. The songs
Penelope Swales is one of those performers that can simply stop the
The audience was delighted with Penelope's great stories as well as
Swales has made a name for herself as a passionate, intelligent
UK audiences have appreciated the political nature of her songs, even
Swales is noted for her spellbinding songwriting and her frank, passionate
From the Streets of Melbourne to the streets of London, Penelope Swales
1st man: "What kind of music's this?"