North Carolina’s Sinners & Saints released their second full-length album, On The Other Side, on March 10th. Although Sinners & Saints consists of two members, Perry Fowler and Mark Baran, whose harmonies are front and center, don’t think of them as an acoustic duo. With Baran on the upright bass, Fowler adding color with the harmonica, and each of them powering a drum by foot, they’ve got the energy and full sound of a band.
On the Other Side delivers ten songs with addictive melodies and simple, infectious beats. You might find yourself involuntarily nodding along before noticing the sometimes sorrowful lyrics. Or maybe you don’t notice them at all, and that’s okay too. Listening to this record is like walking into a slightly seedy dive bar in an unfamiliar town and meeting your new best friends.
Of all the songs on the album, “Music Man” might serve as the best introduction to the band. A rolling, playful tune, aided by frequent collaborator Geoff White on fiddle and banjo, it describes the life of a touring musician, from the highs of getting the audience singing along and dancing, to the lows of budget travel–and sometimes not even getting paid.
The band’s primary songwriter, Perry Fowler, sings about the balance between the fun side of playing music and the tough side of trying to earn a living at it. Without sugarcoating the difficulties of being a working musician, Fowler hones in on what it’s all about for him—sharing a moment of connection with the audience. “Gotta make ‘em sing, gotta make ‘em feel. Gotta have some faith to make it real.”
“In my mind,” Fowler says, “I’m writing this song to someone who’s trying to be a songwriter, or thinking about getting into the music business. It’s not fairy tales and daydreams and butterflies. It’s sleeping on floors, putting up with some weird shit. Being broke and all that stuff that goes with it. “
“Whiskey Drinking” is another song that captures the ambience of the band’s usual venues, complete with background banter and clinking glasses.
“We thought that since most of the time we’re playing in clanky bars that it would be fitting for a song titled ‘Whiskey Drinking’ to have that same noise and chatter. We pretty much just did a couple of takes of me and Mark and our friend Jeremy reading out of books and banging glasses around.”
It’s a feel-good song, in the most southern of senses. It shifts unselfconsciously from talking about the lord to talking about drinking, sort of like a drunken tent revival, the gospel of good times.
“Nobody Left to Believe” gives voice to the little guy being taken advantage of by the powerful, and yearning to fight back: “Don’t give ‘em an inch. No, take what you can. They can’t take us all if we rise up.”
Fowler says, “I wrote that song before Trump threw his hat in the ring as a candidate for presidency. Things have definitely not gotten better.”
In “Old Bones,” Fowler offers up a twist on the typical “boy meets girl, boy loses girl” story song. In this version (spoiler alert) boy meets girl, boy and girl get a dog, girl leaves boy, girl misses dog, girl comes back. Each verse ends with the lyrics “he’d (or we’d) howl at the moon” and each chorus ends with “I don’t ever get any sleep at night,” but the connotations of the howling and not sleeping cleverly change with each verse.
Fowler gives Geoff White credit for bringing an unexpected interpretation to “Old Bones,” as well as to “Promise Land.”
“When we got Geoff White in the studio with us to play fiddle we were like, holy shit, that’s a totally different song! His fiddle parts in those songs give them a Cajun vibe.”
Mark Baran’s dog, Bump, gets the last word in, though, with an extended howling solo at the end.
The final song, “Ready to Go,” is the only song listed on the album written by Mark Baran. It stands out for its easygoing waltzing tempo and the warm trombone solos, but also for what happens after it ends.
Wait a few seconds and you’ll hear a hidden track, a beautiful finger-picked guitar instrumental, written and played by Baran. It’s as if the bar has finally closed, the patrons have stumbled out and the tables have been wiped down. The room is empty and the sound has been turned off. The guitarist plays the untitled song for himself, and maybe for the good friends who stick around after the party ends.