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Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds | Pound of Dirt

album review by John Powell

Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds | Pound and Dirt

Compared to their debut album, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty BirdsPound of Dirt is like going from homemade soup- which is hot and good- to a bowl of a chili cook-off’s winner. On their self-titled, SSATDB were reserved, sure of their communication and love of soul and funk, but not nearly as fiery as their live shows. Many shows later, Pound of Dirt cuts loose. The horns, especially, freak out deliciously, sometimes adding New Orleans flare (“Make it Rain”), other times sweet, sweet soulfulness (“No Rest”). Knack for soul, the band dashes in electric blues, funk, rock, and some other genres. While the first record really showed off singer Arleigh Kincheloe's voice, Pound of Dirt sounds very much a team effort.

Some might find it more scattered. They take some calculated risks, such as the minute-long harmonica solo song, “Bulldozer”, which anyone not totally in love with harmonica might have trouble with, butJackson Kincheloe has stepped up his game, and many songs sound like Blues Traveler with a female vocalist and some horns. On “This Crazy Torpedo” Sasha Brown solos for a psychedelic minute, something Van Halen would appreciate, but I’m not sure how many fans would.

Then there’s “Millie Mae”, a gorgeous soul tune. “How many rocks does it take to build up this mountain top?” Arleigh muses before the catchy and sincere chorus takes over. Her lyrics haven’t gotten any better, but they were quite good to begin with. The fear of cheesy lyrics passing through the filter just because she can sing them well is always there, but these originals bump up the bar for soul music- there’s very little cheese, if any at all.

Arleigh, and the whole band really, channel most notably Aretha Franklin- heart thumping ballads of overcoming sadness and hard times, and also Janis Joplin, as Arleigh has let more grit into her voice, (minus the incoherent sneering and throaty yelps that Janis made famous).

Also, the songs retain the theme of the band name, which is endearing. “How many feathers does it take/ to make a bird fly?” She asks at one point. “Hollow Bones” holds on to that notion, and “Feather of a Queen” also plays with the metaphor.

“Feather of a Queen” is a great song, by the way; a little less classic soul and more alternative, like Garbage maybe? Or something along those lines, at least. Guitar spitting noise, drums' ferocious beat; it’s another interlude (along with “Bulldozer” and “This Crazy Torpedo”).

The closer, “Horse to Water”, slows the album down quickly. At seven minutes, it has a totally different feel from the rest of Pound of Dirt. “I can lead you anywhere,” Arleigh moans; “I think you might run away.” Just afterwards, “Remember when I took you to the lion’s den?/ You were too chicken to walk in.” Ouch. She’s as feisty as ever. Eventually, the song builds into, well, the best metaphor might be a bonfire: controlled chaos, sparks flying into the air and everything in varied colors.

A sophomore slump is a usual thing, but not for Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Appreciatively, they’ve tried something unique to their self-titled, getting atmospheric, noisier, and all-around less safe. We’re at the point where we have no idea what their third album will sound like, but if it follows the level of quality we’ve seen so far, we’ll most welcome the surprise.

Bottom line: A killer set of sleek, sexy blues, soul, and funk, with a band that’s learned their limits and busted beyond them.


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