Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds, a two year old, nine piece big band chock full of sultry soul, funk, reggae, lounge, and rock grooves has released their self titled debut album on Modern Vintage Recordings. “Modern Vintage” is a fairly apt descriptor for this band at whose core sits 22-year-old singer Arleigh Kincheloe and her brother Jackson on harmonica. With a sound that is one part Nawlins funkified horns another part 1950s sultry lounge act and a few helpings of deep pocket, big band arrangements; The Dirty Birds have come chirping out of Brooklyn harkening back to a different era but grounding themselves in the modern live music scene.
Lead off track “Untie my Shoelaces” carries a swank strut and smooth guitar swing from Sasha Brown. Kincheloe’s voice immediately jumps out front with a sexy, smoky vibe that belies her young age and will bring the boys up front all night long. Horn accents provide faultless fits and starts of melody both propelling the music forward and offering precise counterpoint to the bass and vocals. When backup vocals swerve in at the end, the bootays will shake and the lips will smile. This is just fun.
The album was astonishingly recorded live in one night inside a New York City studio. It must have been a long, fun one because the album shifts from the highly arranged, sped up funk of “Quicksand” and “Baby from Space” to the lite-reggae lilt of “Boom Boom” and “Vices”. Jackson Kincheloe’s harmonica is employed front and center, as a soloing instrument, throughout the album to a unique and pleasant effect.
There are classic-ish soul tracks like “Rock in It” where the taught, Bossanova arrangement and Kincheloe’s vocals shimmy and sway with a hint of Latin flavor. “Just My Eyes” has a gorgeous country cadence that provides a divergent but equally compelling swanky partner to the album’s opening number. Here the vocals are all coy and lovely, flirtatious and nuanced, an out and out winner across the board. Kincheloe’s vocals shine again on the soul ballad, “My House”, where the resonant depth of her chops carries the tune and horn swells help the band achieve a buoyant and sweaty liftoff.
The album has its slow moments, mostly showing up in the more blues based numbers like “Freight Train” and “Eddy” though “Eddy” revs up a bit with inspired harmonica and guitar solos. “Who are You?” sounds a bit too imitative of Afro-beat horn arrangements despite its strong vocal/horn interplay. While Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds aren’t re-inventing funky soul with their debut album they offer an inspired and intriguingly modern take on vintage sounds. The big band structure helps the band diverge somewhat from the oversaturated “new classic” sound of Dap Tone Records and similar offspring. There is a shifty and sly element inside this music. Like lounge lizards slithering through the red velvet booths of an underground club sipping on a gin drink, Sister Sparrow and her massive band of Dirty Birds will surprise you.