Sister Sparrow's Live Album Was a Happy Accident

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Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds were all set to open a New Year’s Eve party for Daryl Hall at the singer’s Hudson Valley venue, when a perplexing cancellation sent the band scrambling to book a replacement gig.

But the hard-touring Brooklyn-based band, a seven-piece that plays a feisty mix of soul and rock ’n’ roll, ended up capitalizing on the silver lining of that cloud, recording a live record at The Warehouse in Fairfield, Connecticut.

“Either we were not going to have a New Year’s Eve show or we had to make magic happen, so we pulled the show together,” says frontwoman Arleigh Kincheloe. “I’d always wanted to make a live record; our fans had been asking for one for many years. We all of a sudden got to the venue and the idea to make the album that night came from our manager. He said ‘What if we record it and turn [the performance] into this big, epic night to remember?’ It seemed perfect.” 

A live record had been on the agenda for years for Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, having steadily built a fanbase since 2011, playing around 150 shows a year and turning heads at festival appearances from Telluride to Bonnaroo. Three studio albums gave a hint of the band’s potency, but as Kincheloe, the band’s brassy and powerfully voiced lead singer says, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds feel most at home on stage.

In the end, the double live album Fowl Play, released March 4 on Thirty Tigers, couldn’t be a better introduction to the band. The 16-song, multi-tracked, complete New Year’s Eve performance captures the energy and power of the band: Kincheloe on vocals, the innovative harmonica of her brother Jackson Kincheloe, Sasha Brown on guitar, Josh Myers on bass, Phil Rodriguez on trumpet, Brian Graham on saxophones, and Dan Boyden on drums.

“With only a few weeks to have it all organized, it was absolutely incredible that we pulled it off. That’s partially why it was such a special show and such a special night,” she says. “The energy was pretty incredible for us. The energy in the crowd was amazing. We got lucky. We play so many shows a year, and we’ve been on the road pretty much full time for the last four or five years now. That’s where we feel at home and that’s where we thrive.”

Much of what sets Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds apart comes from the Kincheloe siblings: Arleigh’s expressive and commanding vocals and Jackson’s harmonica, which he amplifies at times to mimic an electric organ.

“I’ve been saying lately that we play hard soul. It’s not just soul music. It’s not a throwback. It’s not just one thing,” she says. “It’s a little nitty-gritty, it’s definitely soulful, but it’s got blues and funk. It’s high energy and fun and loud.”

From the band’s early days, the sound has taken some twists and turns that have added a versatility, with all of the musicians leaving their own fingerprints.

The band took a longer break in touring to record its latest studio album, relocating to Bear Creek Studio near Seattle to produce 2015’s The Weather Below.

“The making of that record helped us grow an extra little step. It’s been great, too, after we were in the studio to go back out on the road, with almost a fresh sound,” she says. “I always knew I wanted horns and a big band. That was my goal from the beginning. But the rock side of it has definitely evolved, naturally. That has to do with the specific players we have. Everybody brings their own flavor to it and we can grow together. It’s been amazing to see, even over the last year and a half since we made The Weather Below.”

Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds are scheduled to perform at Crescent Ballroom on Monday, March 28. 

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