Sister Sparrow Unleashes Big Contemporary Soul & Pop On ‘Gold’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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Sister Sparrow’s outrageously big soul vocals have been wowing audiences out front of the horn-fueled Dirty Birds worldwide for over a decade.  While her known talents were already more than enough, Arleigh Kincheloe has stepped outside of her comfort zone with Gold to establish her own personal sound.  She’s built a brand with her alter-ego moniker as Sister Sparrow, but Gold just might make fans refer to her in that one name upper stratosphere as simply “Arleigh”.

The right producer paired with the right artist can create musical magic.  In the case of Carter Matschullat the two struck an instant kinship. Meeting for the first time for a writing session in 2016 Kincheloe arrived with some ideas for what turned out to be the title track.  “I don’t know how, but he understood my not-very-cohesive ramblings,” Says Kincheloe. “He got it”.

The results are dynamic.  The title track “Gold” whether on purpose or not, strikes me as a metaphor for the rest of the record.  The vocal implores committing to look deeper into an individual and see what treasures reside in their soul.  Dig in/Dig in to me/To find there’s something inside of me/Set it free/And you will see/My love is gold gold gold. In the case of Sister Sparrow, it’s just the first taste of stepping outside of her soul persona and taking listeners on a journey across a wide breadth of vocal stylings.

The single “Ghost”, which has found its way to some early airplay and artist playlists, pokes a little fun at the modern day social behavior of “ghosting” with a bouncy keyboard groove that could just as easily fit the soundtrack of the 1987 film “Mannequin”.  The usual power of Kincheloe is replaced by a cleverly revealed soprano and breathy phrasing, much in the way that Pat Benatar would conceal her massive chops to meet the instrumental tone in the middle.

Sandwiched around “Ghost” they are a pair of tunes that stay true to her soul roots and are presented with the confidence of a woman in control. The gritty soul foundation of “Leave Here With Me” is rich with sass and attitude, while the R&B/funk ride “Bad Habit” laments the laws of attraction that we’ve all felt and fought.  I’m in it/Gotta get it/Don’t try and tell me I need to quit it/Got my own mind/And I ain’t blind.

“Can’t Get You Off My Mind” is led initially by folky harmonica and a romping bassline before the horns take over to give the tune a real Motown flavor.  Kincheloe’s monster chorus vocal evokes feelings of some of the greats of the era and yet another dimension where she is perfectly comfortable.

But, the real surprises and in my opinion the gems, are yet to come.  

On “Matter Of Time” Arleigh Kincheloe displays the courage to prove that she can do what every great artist can do.  By presenting her talents with the barest of support, the captivating and naked vocal travels through multiple registers and reveals an astounding soloist free of the competition of her big band.  My only quibble might be the placement in the arrangement of the record. I may have slotted it last as a perfect mic-drop.

But the track that took me the most by surprise bubbles along on a comfortingly subtle verse, before rising to an expansive chorus crescendo.  I must have listened to “Plastic Paradise” a dozen times before my wife walked in during one run-through and asked, “is that the theme from the new James Bond movie?”, and then it clicked.  The song is big and bold enough that it could certainly carry that torch if summoned.

The funky, in the pocket groove of “You’re My Party” caps an all-around great record with an upbeat, fun dance-hook.  Arleigh Kincheloe effortlessly cruises through the feel-good vocal with what sounds like a smile after delivering an encompassing performance on the previous nine tracks.  At its conclusion, a voice, presumably that of producer Carter Matschullat, utters “That was amazing”.

With respect to the entire effort, I concur.  Sometimes a vocalist who decides to take on a solo-ish project falls flat venturing out of their wheelhouse. Sister Sparrow has not only distinguished herself with “Gold” as a talent beyond that of a powerful soul singer with a really tight band but succeeded in digging into herself and setting free more than perhaps even she knew was possible.

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