Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
“Our music is loud, fun, and it’s supposed to make you feel good.”
That’s straight from the mouth of Arleigh Kincheloe, the lead singer and Sister Sparrow to the collection of Dirty Birds that backs her up in this amazing rock/soul/funk band. Arleigh and her brother Jackson, who plays the prominently-featured harmonica for the ensemble, came from the Catskills to the band’s base of operations, Brooklyn. They formed in 2008, and by 2010 they had their self-titled debut album available. Since then, they’ve been road warriors, hitting venues and festivals all over the country. They’ve won listeners over the old-fashioned way: putting on the best damn shows they can and bringing to music to every pair of ears they can find.
Their most recent studio album, The Weather Below, came out in May of last year, and it’s full of a throwback, dirty Southern soul sound that perfectly fulfills the band’s mission statement – to have a good time, and to get you to have one too. They recently released Fowl Play, their first live recording. The story behind the live album perfectly symbolizes the band’s attitude; when their New Year’s Eve show with Daryl Hall was canceled, they immediately arranged an even bigger show, then decided at the last minute to record it and make the party available to the world.
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds deliver a joyful brand of music that’s best described as nondenominational. Like many good bands, they blend a handful of everything, and like the best of them, they find a way to turn it into something that’s completely their own. Here are some of the covers that these avian songsters have delivered…
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds – Bulls on Parade/Rock and Roll (Rage Against the Machine/Led Zeppelin cover)
When you’re a band on the rise, it often pays to look back to the classics. Even for a band as funky as Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, there are a lot worse things to do than look back at rock standards like these. Led Zeppelin defies boundaries; you’re as likely to find country fans listening to them as you are metalheads. Taking the lyrics to “Rock and Roll” and putting them to the riff from Rage Against the Machine‘s “Bulls on Parade” symbolizes Sister Sparrow’s whole approach to music: throw it in a blender and see what kind of good stuff comes out. Arleigh’s growling vocals are quite different from Robert Plant‘s, but just as striking in their own way. Her voice has a tough, down-and-dirty sweetness that suits almost anything she chooses to sing.
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds – Back to the Future Medley
On Back to the Future day last year, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds unveiled a treat for the audience: an impromptu tribute to the movie itself. The band warms up by playing the theme from the score, then Arleigh slides in to perform a soft verse of “Earth Angel.” Things really kick into a higher gear when the group closes out the mini-set with a ripping version of “Johnny B. Goode.” The uptempo song serves as a canvas for Jackson, who uses his harmonica to splatter soul all over the place. There’s never anything wrong with a band having fun with a theme, and these guys are definitely having a good time.
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds – Fat Bottomed Girls (Queen cover)
“Fat Bottomed Girls” is a good-natured raunchy classic. The song celebrates the joys of a certain body type while managing to avoid seeming seedy. That type of subject matter suits Arleigh’s vocals perfectly. She’s got the kind of voice that hints at everything while saying nothing, even at the cleanest of times; give her a song that flat-out talks about sex and she can really cut loose. The band sounds like they’re having fun with this performance, and why wouldn’t they? Everybody wants to grow up to rock like Queen.
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds – The Way You Make Me Feel (Michael Jackson cover)
If you’re going to cover the King of Pop, you have to bring something new to the party. Sister Sparrow takes Jackson’s peppy, joyous single and slows it down a notch, making it sultry instead of celebratory. The horns from the original version suit are a natural fit for the band. They engage in a call-and-response between Arleigh and the boys in the chorus, which is a nice touch. Even the most classic of pop songs can use dose of funk from time to time, and the Dirty Birds add just the right amount of their own sound to “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds – Dr. Feelgood (Aretha Franklin cover)
Aretha Franklin is the best. No questions there. Her “Dr. Feelgood” is very to-the-point. She loves how her man makes her feel. She doesn’t waste any time making this known in her version. Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds know that there is only one Aretha, so they don’t just focus on the voice, the way the original arrangement does. The Dirty Birds lean on the instrumentation, especially the harmonica, to add the needed touch of soul. There’s a long trumpet solo added where Franklin’s versions ends, and then Arleigh puts her smoky voice to good use closing it out, giving every ounce of energy she has. When a band puts this much effort into making the music this enjoyable, they’re worth showing up to see.