The melody of Melaena Cadiz’s “Swinging Low” is cheerful and bright, yet the lyrics aren’t quite as upbeat. Listen closely, and you’ll notice that somebody’s world is collapsing.
“I was ruminating on past relationships that went off the rails,” Cadiz tells CMT Edge. “Where everything starts falling apart, these destructive cycles start. People start blaming each other, acting out. I remember saying and doing things I wasn’t proud of. That’s what I meant by ‘swinging low’ — unfair, low blows.”
Taking a cue from recordings such as Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind,” there’s an unexpected relationship between the music and the meaning. (Despite their titles and ballad tempos, both of those classics are about failure in partnerships.)
In Cadiz’s case, the words in “Swinging Low” depict a miserable life even as the music bounces happily along.
“I’ve always loved songs that say one thing, but the music conveys another message,” says Cadiz, who is based in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I was listening to a lot of Loretta Lynn songs when I wrote this. She takes heartbreak and anger and sings about it in a victorious, festive way. You see the old videos of her grinning and singing ‘Fist City.’ There’s something mischievous about it and a sense that this is a hard spot, but it’ll be OK. We can take this heartache and find some comic relief.”
She adds, “I think I wanted the chorus to be fun and flippant, to echo what people might be yelling at each other, throwing dishes in the kitchen.”
Listen for “Swinging Low” on Cadiz’s album, Deep Below Heaven, arriving May 20. Check out the CMT Edge premiere of “Swinging Low.”