LIVE: Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds @ the Hollow Bar + Kitchen, 3/28/15
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.
Favorites from the band’s previous releases and a couple of boss covers dominated the second half of the evening. A soul-clapping “Long Way” got the crowd revved up for the seductive call to good times in “Untie My Shoelaces,” and an ultra-slow but very satisfying “Make It Rain” that felt like a vintage cut from the Hi Records catalog. It takes gumption to cover Aretha Franklin, but even the Queen of Soul herself would have approved of Sister Sparrow’s thrilling take on “Dr. Feelgood,” a performance that proved to be an equal showcase for the terse blues soloing by Brown.
Graham’s baritone sax led off a boisterous “Crawdaddies,” establishing a New Orleans vibe that got reinforced by Rodriguez’s muted trumpet and Kincheloe’s frenetic harp. “Who Are You?” (a highlight from the band’s 2010 eponymous debut) kicked out the jams with allusions to “Hall of the Mountain King” and P-Funk’s “Flashlight” and an extended blues harp solo. Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” got a bluesy funk makeover, slide guitar in full blaze mode, horns vamping midway through on the immortal bassline of “Who Knows” by the Band of Gypsys. “Roadtrip” was a tour de force closer, seguing into its “The Times Were Early” coda with the help of John Kincheloe (proud father of Arleigh and Jackson) on backing vocals.
Wanting more, the crowd easily cajoled Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds back up for “Too Much,” an extended encore. A whirlwind of scalding slide guitar and harp, Stax-styled horns, bass and drums, and wry, semi-rapped lyrics (“Overdone and overboard/Tally Ho! well I’m a keeping score/Walked the plank so many, too many times before/Empty bottles, broken glass,/Wind up hours they fall down fast/Life is starting to kick my ass/I gotta build to last…”), the song had the place rocking right up to the edge of the stage til well past midnight.
Openers the Lucky Jukebox Brigade have built themselves a tougher, rock sound recently, and a number of their tunes had a decidedly new-wave edge to them. Not to mention their ace cover of Nena’s “99 Luftballons”…
NOTE: The Weather Below, Sister Sparrow’s long-awaited third album, is slated for release on Tuesday, May 19. And the band will be back in the Greater Nippertown area the following weekend, playing the SummerSound Festival at Tanglewood in Lenox on Sunday, May 24.
SISTER SPARROW & THE DIRTY BIRDS SET LIST
Don’t Be Jealous
We Need a Love
Untie My Shoelaces
Make It Rain
Dr. Feelgood (Aretha Franklin)
Who Are You
You Don’t Know How It Feels (Tom Petty)
Road Trip > The Times Were Early