Lap steel, banjo, and tenor guitar: this here is a country song. Sort of. The instrumentation suggests it, but as soon as Rebecca Zolkower opens her mouth, the song veers in a somewhat different direction. Zolkower sings with the unadorned charm of a dorm-room folksinger; for me, her plain and pretty tone brings Suzzy Roche to mind, a connection reinforced by the band’s composition—Dark for Dark features three women, and three female voices in confident and determined harmony with one another.
“Sweetwater” is upbeat yet melancholy, with brisk, poetic verses and a power cemented by an ear-grabbing chorus, in which, first, a jaunty melody (tracing a B major chord in a I-V-III pattern) is matched to what may be our language’s most desolate phrase (“And when I die”). But then: both the lyrics and melody slide almost out of hearing, and background singers Jess Lewis and Mel Stone proceed to echo words we didn’t quite hear when Zolkower first sang them. It’s an odd but engaging few moments. The front woman comes back to the foreground on the last phrase (“in the ground”) in a catching-up-from-behind manner that provides almost as endearing a closure as the follow-up surely does: the wordless “bah-bah” exchange between lead and backup singers through one more melodic run-through of the chorus, minus the elusive sections.
And, as often happens here, reading about it is more complicated than listening to it. Hell, the song is only two minutes twenty-eight seconds. I suggest listening.
Dark for Dark was founded in 2012, but all three members are veterans of the Halifax music scene, and Zolkower and Stone were previously together in the band The Prospector’s Union. Zolkower got the name for the band while reading The Hobbit a few years ago, and kind of laughs now at how inapposite the name is for the kind of lovely music the eventual band eventually created. “Sweetwater” is the second track on the group’s debut album, Warboats, which was self-released last month. You can listen to the whole thing, and purchase it, via Bandcamp.