Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds take flight at the 9:30 Club

Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds fuse blues, rock, and soul during 9:30 Club in DC.

WASHINGTON, October 18, 2012 —In a way, it’s almost disappointing when, after listening to the set of Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds at the 9:30 Club on a recent Thursday night, you discover they’re just up the road from New York. On the one hand, it’s interesting to see a band so completely and thoroughly appropriate a signature sound from outside their regional turf, exemplifying an uncommon musical diversity. On the other hand, this band so typifies the musical ideals of southern rock—the Deep South variety—that it’s difficult to wrap you’re head around the fact they’re really from Noo Yawk.

Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds is a nine-piece, soulful blues rock band fronted by Arleigh Kincheloe, who takes on the stage name “Sister Sparrow.”  There’s no doubt that the band revolves around her. In fact, she’s the gravitational pull for the rest of the band. She doesn’t appear on stage until the first instrumental—prominently featuring her brother Jackson on harmonica—comes to a conclusion. Once she’s front and center, the band’s show is transformed into a whirlwind blast of energy.

It’s a combination of things that make Kincheloe such an undeniably dynamic stage performer. Better yet, for someone who has been performing as long as she has, she hasn’t gotten lazy or complacent. She is fully aware of how to use her talents to full effect and that’s what she sets out to do.

For one, even if her voice weren’t as overpowering as it actually is, it would be hard for her not to attract the majority of attention. Throughout the entire set, she is in constant movement, rarely slowing down for anything. She’s not necessarily graceful the way she moves on stage. In fact, it’s much more of a forceful presence she projects, and she simply demands anyone watching her sit up and take notice.

Of course she does have that voice we mentioned, which makes for an even more affecting package during the band’s live performance. When seeing her on stage, it’s hard to comprehend just how powerful her voice is in comparison to her surprisingly slight build. Her physical appearance would seem to hint at a voice that’s delicate, light and airy and almost serene.  Instead, what the audience gets is a vocal instrument that’s deep, husky, and at times overpowering, in the way that some of the best Southern soul vocalists can be when they’re at the top of their game. Sister Sparrow creates a central core of energy around which the rest of the band can spin its web of sound.

While Arleigh Kincheloe is very much the focus of the band, it would be disingenuous to say that they merely exist to support her talent. This was amply on display right their opening song before Arleigh even stepped on stage. This clearly demonstrated the band members’ collective ability to hold the audience’s attention and then some, proving that this band as a whole is an energetic combination of distinct but complementary musical styles.

Each member of band contributes a unique ingredient that leads to a distinctive ensemble effect that helps create a unique fusion of southern-style rock influences. Sasha Brown’s guitar work is airy and complex. Aiden Carroll’s bass playing invokes some of the more memorable signature aspects of funk. The use the horn section is especially striking, giving the Dirty Birds that full big band sound that makes southern rock’s peculiar talent for blending genres like blues and soul so effective. Add to that Jackson Kincheloe’s eclectic harmonica which almost constantly hovers about, and you discover a northern band that puts its own, unique, signature spin on a classic southern sound.

Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds brought all of these elements to bear during their exciting set at the 9:30 Club. And yet you got the distinct feeling that their sound would allow them to fit in comfortably at some of the best dive bars in the heart of the Deep South. That’s quite an accomplishment.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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