Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds (2010)

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by Mark Saleski

“…The disgusting stink of a too-loud electric guitar: now that’s my idea of a good time.” Ah yeah, tell it Mr. Zappa! One of my all-time favorite quotes concerning the instrument, Frank wasn’t proclaiming the guitar the king of instruments so much as noting that it’s the perfect tool for making a truly hideous noise. My younger self definitely agreed. What could be more fun than plugging in and disturbing the universe (or at least the upstairs neighbors)?

At some point (and mostly, we all reach that point in one way or another), I discovered that there were other ways. My universe was disturbed in a major way the first time I saw Southside Johnny perform live. Sure, guitars can make a noise that’s tough to ignore, but a horn section amplified through a giant PA system? It felt like a wave. It was a wave: a wave of soul that knocked me back and made me realize that there were some serious holes in my record collection.

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds reminds me of that time when I felt compelled to buy every soul and horn-related record I could find, from Tower of Power to James Brown to early Chicago. In fact, this stuff is so good that I feel a another wave of collecting coming on!

With sultry & knowing vocals by Arleigh Kincheloe, and backed by a killer four-part (trombone, alto, bari, trumpet) horn section, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds blast their way though a big, sweaty pile of passionate rock and soul. Like the body of soul music itself, this band is not content to stick to just a single form. No, there are raveups (“Baby From Space,” “Quicksand,” and “Who Are You”? (which takes its main riff from Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”)), infectious reggae (“BoomBoom,” “Rock In It,” and “Vices” (an insanely catchy modern companion to Blondie’s “The Tide Is High”)), and down & dirty blues-inflected soul: “Freight Train,” “Eddy,” “My House.”

The guitar player in me just has to give a tip of the cap to guitarist Sasha Brown. Mr. Brown can bring the funk, the skank, and drop down a nasty solo. This album wouldn’t be the same without him.

Reviewers are going to run out of superlatives to attach to Ms. Kincheloe. She’s more than comfortable in the music’s more tender moments (for instance, the country-ish “Just My Eyes”) and can easily torque up the power to keep up with the horn section. Take one look at her and you can’t be blamed for being surprised that that voice came out of that person!

If you need one song to hear what this band is about, check out “My House.” A slow-building plea for love (“Come on over to my house baby..”), you’ll hear Kincheloe’s pleading vocals, a swelling horn section, and some terrific guitar work by Sasha Brown.

I can pretty much guarantee that Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds will have you reaching for the necessary upward volume adjustments. Just be careful…gotta have pity for those upstairs neighbors.

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds will be released on November 23, 2010 on Modern Vintage Recordings.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at
Mark Saleski
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