According to her Wikipedia page, Jarboe La Salle Devereaux was born in Mississippi, raised in New Orleans and Atlanta, and was the daughter of parents who both worked in the FBI. She was an obsessive Swans fan prior to joining the band in 1985 and had trained as a jazz and choral vocalist. Metal fans may be familiar with her through her collaborations with Neurosis, Justin Broadrick, and even death/grind outfit Cattle Decapitation.
Skin Blood Women Roses is a reissue of the 1987 album for Record Store Day which was originally released under the name of Skin (later The World Of Skin) and saw her collaborating with Swans bandmate Michael Gira. The album was released the same year as the Swans classic Children Of God, which I acquired on vinyl recently and a release I highly recommend to those wanting to get into the band.
One Thousand Years sees Jarboe‘s aforementioned choral training coming to the fore. The track is magnificent and there are touches of dark post-punk ala Echo and the Bunnymen present which foreshadows the shift in sound that began with Children Of God from the pummelling and uncompromising industrial noise-rock of yesteryear. Emotionally and artistically, it feels and sounds a lot more satisfying.
Cry Me A River, according to Wikipedia, is a ‘popular American torch song written by Arthur Hamilton, first published in 1953 and made famous in 1955 with the version by Julie London’ and that a torch song is a ‘sentimental love song, typically one in which the singer laments an unrequited or lost love’. Jarboe draws on her jazz background, which when combined with the sparse arrangements makes for a far more haunting rendition.
We’ll Fall Apart summons the spirit of the late Ian Curtis and there is a vulnerability about the track that makes for an irresistible earworm. The beginning of Still A Child feels like a nod to early Swans before piano slowly comes to the fore. Unlike the heavily layered sonics of her then day job, the music here is stripped back, simple, and allows the exquisite vocals to take centre stage. Long before Chelsea Wolfe and Marissa Nadler, Jarboe was leading the way with moody gothic tinged balladry.
Skin Blood Women Roses demonstrates what an important asset Jarboe was to Swans…
Come Out injects a sense of fun into the proceedings with a daft dance beat that initially feels out of place. Vibe wise I was reminded of Peek-a-Boo by Siouxsie and the Banshees, was Siouxsie listening to this when writing that song? One wonders. The cover of The Man I Love by the legendary American composers Ira and George Gershwin manages to surpass the original in terms of melancholia and is just utterly heart wrenching. Red Rose is possibly the eeriest sounding number on the album, with willowy vocals, and to quote Pieter Uys in his essay on the album, it’s also in possession of ‘doom laden piano chords disrupting silvery showers of tinkling bells’. By contrast Blood On Your Hands feels relatively upbeat with handclaps and lyrics such as ‘Mama loves her darling boy, she’ll hold him close in her arms’.
The album comes with four bonus tracks (on the CD version) including ‘Rap’ and ‘Vocal Dub’ takes of Come Out which are perfectly serviceable but nothing to write home about. The live version of The Man I Love is pretty decent while My Own Hands is an avant-garde piece laden with tension, all that is missing are Diamanda Galas’ demented vocal shrieks. It’s unnerving that’s for sure.
Skin Blood Women Roses demonstrates what an important asset Jarboe was to Swans. I’m reticent to call the album accessible but it may appeal to listeners who find Swans a little too intense, as the nods to jazz and classical music certainly help keep you captivated throughout.
Scribed by: Reza Mills