They come out of Brooklyn—as do I—with spit and polish: a nine-piece charge. Hey, I’m a sucker for a good live rock ‘n’ roll band with a four-piece horn section and a sexy lead singer. You’d think that voice was coming out of some big-boned gal who’s a ton of fun but Arleigh Kincheloe—lead singer of Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds—is but a little thing, sinewy and adorable, who envelopes the electric waves emanating from the Dirty guitar/bass/drum core right within her own body and soul. She moves to every rim shot from her cousin drummer, Bram Kincheloe, and every squawk, bleep and honeyed breath of her brother, blues-harp man Jackson Kincheloe. She channels it, dances to it, and it erupts out her mouth like Al Green. She’s not quite Janis, not quite the Polish powerhouse Genya Ravan from another generation who also fronted a ball-buster big-band filled with horns called Ten Wheel Drive. But on Birds originals like “Too Much,” “Make It Rain,” “Millie Mae,” “Horse To Water,” “Hollow Bones” and “Feather Of A Queen”—all off their sophomore effort Pound Of Dirt—she sings her original lyrics with no real vocal precedent.
At a recent gig opening up for Ryan Montbleau at the Musikfest Café in Bethlehem, PA, she shook, shimmied and shouted out her lyrics when necessary with an old soul man’s verve and an unpredictable twitch of Saint Vitus Dance proportions. Helping her along was that four-piece horn section that really pumped up the proceedings with a visceral gut-punch: Johnny Butler’s baritone saxophone, Ryan Snow’s trombone, Phil Rodriguez’s trumpet and the alto saxophone of JJ Byars. Like the horn section of Professor Louie & The Crowmatix, they added to the songs immeasurably and satisfyingly with a pungent funkiness that turned this rock into soul. And also like Prof. Louie, they do “Up On Cripple Creek” so delicious…so delicious in fact, you want them to cover the whole damn self-titled album from The Band where that song first appeared in 1969.
Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds were born in 2008 and have already opened for Levon Helm, Warren Haynes, Donald Fagen, The Neville Brothers, Dr. John, The Rebirth Brass Band and Sharon Jones. That’ll tell you something right there.
“Our live shows get sweaty,” says the Sister. “It’s kind of like a punk show with soul music.”
The 2010 self-titled debut was but a snapshot of their overall aesthetic. “It was a wham-bam thank-you-ma’am kind of recording,” she says of the one-night marathon session. (The 2012 Pound Of Dirt follow-up was produced by Brian Bender and recorded in Brooklyn’s Motherbrain Studio.) The band will be returning to Bethlehem this summer to take part in the annual music orgy called Musikfest in August.
Another raging female I’m particularly fond of is Canadian Sue Foley, a blues mama supreme with an irresistible voice and guitar chops to spare. Her new duet album with Jerseyboy Peter Karp, Beyond The Crossroads (Blind Pig) is out and the duo will be heading our way May 26 at The Saint in Asbury Park and June 2 at Godfrey Daniels in Bethlehem, PA. The album contains 12 originals in a honky-tonkin’ barroom blitz of blues-drenched proportions. They both can stomp and wail, they both can write, and Karp’s voice is a frayed-around-the-edges soulful instrument. Appreciably better than 2010’s He Said She Said, Beyond The Crossroads is thrillingly satisfying. I’m looking forward to seeing these two on a stage where they belong.
Karp’s first release, out of Alabama, with the help of former Rolling Stone guitarist Mick Taylor, was the impressive The Turning Point in 2004. Foley hit first in Austin with Young Girl Blues in 1991, where she posed provocatively on the cover with her guitar. These two are perfect for each other. See you in Bethlehem.