Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Timothy Reidy
It goes without saying that when seven-piece Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds play your town, the energy levels surge so high that even the snow outside starts to melt. On this particular Saturday night, the Hollow Bar + Kitchen was sizzling and filled to capacity. It was nothing but a house party from start to finish – “Albany should always be this much fun!” as one woman in the audience exclaimed to me feverishly after the two-hour set.
The band, a self-described “hard soul collective” led by the immensely talented and beautiful singer Arleigh “Sister Sparrow” Kincheloe, was greeted with a roar from the crowd even before the first notes of long-time favorite “Freight Train.” The second-line rhythms of New Orleans and standout riffs of Phil Rodriguez (trumpet) and Brian Graham (saxophone) galvanized “Millie Mae” and had the patrons cutting a rug.
Several songs from the band’s upcoming album The Weather Below got a strong reception. “Don’t Be Jealous,” a strutting blues led by guitarist Sasha Brown and the deep groove of Dan Boyden (drums) and Josh Myers (bass), had Sister Sparrow testifying and flying around the stage, exhorting the crowd to dance its cares away. A soulful “We Need a Love,” “Sugar” (highlighted by a spontaneous, mid-song Bo Diddley-esque clap-along) and the current single, “Mama Knows,” a deep soul number that featured some poignant Hammond B-3 styled harp playing by Arleigh’s big brother Jackson Kincheloe, kept the crowd rapt. “Borderline” began with a multi-vocal introduction and hit some Sly Stone-worthy hooks; it would make a great second single release sometime this spring. “Prison Cells,” which was featured later in the set, percolated with Caribbean rhythms and inspired Sister Sparrow herself to pick up some sticks and join Boyden behind the kit while Rodriguez dropped some knowledge on the trumpet.
It was a Friday night of perpetual wow moments – grooves and solos so sneaky they could untie your shoe laces; and vocals so sultry that heatstroke was imminent. As for the songs, they ranged from deep soul and funk to holla-to-your-mama blues and hip-hop with a dash of reggae and New Orleans second line strut thrown in for good measure.
Based out of Brooklyn, the seven-piece band led by singer extraordinaire Arleigh “Sister Sparrow” Kincheloe hit it and didn’t quit for over two hours. Opening with “Crawdaddies” was a masterstroke, setting a tone that the party would not wait. Phil Rodriguez (trumpet) and Brian Graham (baritone sax) opened the tune, Jackson Kincheloe cranked up the blues harp, and Sister Sparrow was in full got-ya mode, dancing and singing with gusto. The place went nuts. Shifting gears to a slow, bluesy cadence, the band dug into “Don’t Be Jealous (Just Me and the Fellas)”, and the soul testifying had the crowd singing along. Three new songs from the forthcoming album – “Sugar,” “Catch Me If You Can” and “We Need a Love” – brought a dash of disco, some slide guitar-meets-harmonica blues, and Ann Peebles-styled soul testifying respectively.
When the Governor Nelson Rockefeller regime built the Empire State Plaza back in the ’60s, it displaced and destroyed a huge and vital chunk of the City of Albany’s neighborhoods. So it was with no small sense of irony that Living Colour ripped into “Open Letter (To a Landlord)” on Wednesday night from the stage on the very same plaza.
“Now you can tear a building down
But you can’t erase a memory
These houses may look all run down
But they have a value you can’t see…”
Whether the band had any idea about the concert site’s history or not is moot. The song was virtually written to be played on that stage, and the added weight of the ESP’s history imbued the ferocious anti-gentrification anthem with a weight that it probably doesn’t carry at most Living Colour concerts.
Then again, maybe they did know exactly what they were singing about – and where they were singing it. Vocalist Corey Glover kicked off their show by declaring, “We finally made it to the Capital, and we’re ready to burn it down.”
And, burn, baby, burn, they did. At least musically speaking.
Powerhouse soul-funk vocalist Sister Sparrow (aka, Arleigh Kincheloe) was born and raised in the Catskill Mountains, and her horn-fueled, righteously rockin’ band the Dirty Birds have graced plenty of Nippertown stages over the course of the past year or two, from Jillian’s to Putnam Den, from Club Helsinki to Mountain Jam to the Upstate Concert Hall. On Thursday evening, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds come to roost at the Hollow Bar + Kitchen in Albany. But don’t expect to find the band in the clubs much longer. They’re ready for the big-time…
If you could bottle up the zest for life and music that Brooklyn-based Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds bring to the stage every night, you could sell it and put every psychiatrist, religious zealot, political pundit and self-help author out on the street. These eight extraordinary musicians – led by a powerful singer who mesmerizes the moment she first steps up to the microphone – can prescribe the cure for whatever ails you when they come to town.
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