Sweeter Than Sugar, Too
by Doug Driscoll
Michael Schwarte’s last studio CD, Old Songs From the Past/New Songs From the Heart, was released in 1996 and was one of the first really impressive local CDs I ever heard. His live follow-up, 1999’s Made From Scratch, was, to me, something of a disappointment. In my opinion, Schwarte is perhaps the best live solo acoustic performer in the area, and the low-tech Scratch failed to do justice to Schwarte’s live performances. Nearly two years in the making, there’s nothing “made from scratch” about Schwarte’s newest release, Sweeter Than Sugar, Too. In fact, it may be the most well conceived, painstakingly recorded and brilliantly executed CD ever to come out of Fort Wayne.
Not that Schwarte managed this all by his lonesome. He had lots of help from a veritable who’s who among Fort Wayne’s talented acoustic scene. Kenny Taylor contributes acoustic rhythm guitar on most of the tracks, along with backup vocals, slide guitar and even organ , piano and mandolin on some of them. Ex-Blue Moon Boys bassist Jerry Sparkman contributes upright bass accompaniment on several tracks, while Tim Beeler’s electric bass shines on others. David Todoran plays a little rhythm guitar and some gorgeous harmonica (who knew?) on some tracks. Fawn Liebowitz’ Kent Klee provides percussion throughout, and backup vocalists include Susie Suraci, Matt Sturm, Gary Johnson, Cheryl Schwarte, Tim Manges, Randy Spencer and Melissa Perkins. This list of contributors doesn’t include every talented musician in Fort Wayne, but it’s a big chunk of them.
Some of the tunes will be familiar to those who have heard Schwarte play in acoustic venues around Fort Wayne. “Maxine,” in fact, was included on Made From Scratch and has been a staple in Schwarte’s live repertoire for awhile now. New or old, every one of 10 songs on this disc are gems in their own right. My personal favorite is “Comfort of Company,” a Dylanesque dirge featuring beautiful mandolin and harmonica accompaniment by Taylor and Todoran and lyrics like, “I’ve lived my life a long time, seen beauty and cried tears/ Stood on the mount and went down for the count/ Kept to myself and didn’t ask for help/ Now I find I need the comfort of company.”
While Schwarte certainly stands center stage on Sweeter Than Sugar, Too, it’s the company he keeps on this CD that takes it from being a really good release to an exceptional one. Even if you’ve never stepped foot in Toast & Jam or the Dash-In, get this CD. It will astound you.
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