With their twangy harmonies, purist oldschool C&W instrumentation, vivid storytelling and omnipresent sense of humor, the Sweetback Sisters sounds like they just stepped offstage at the Grand Old Opry sometime in the mid-50s – or 60s on occasion. Singers Emily Miller and Zara Bode can be totally badass one moment and shatteringly poignant the next. Their previous album Looking For a Fight was a mix of deliciously retro honkytonk and western swing tunes, with a couple of harrowingly lyrical ballads. Their new one King of Killing Time – streaming at Bandcamp – looks back a little further to around 1953, when proto-rock, blues, jazz and pop were all getting cross-pollinated more radically than anytime before the internet was something more than a dialup connection for the Pentagon. The Sweetback Sisters don’t play quite a much live as they used to, so their album release show this Saturday night, August 19 at 8:30 PM at the Jalopy is likely to sell out. Cover is $20; get to Red Hook early if you can.
With its brisk shuffle rhythm and trainwhisttle guitar accents, Gotta Get A-Goin could be an early 50s Davis Sisters hit, right down to the vintage vernacular and Ben Sanders’ jaunty fiddle solo. The swinging I Got Lucky With You is just plain sweet: it’s got 50s-style PG-rated innuendo, and it’s also the rare love song that doesn’t suck:
Fortune smiles on very few in this world…
So I have to muddle through
The other things that I do
Since I got lucky with you
Trouble, by the band’s excellent former guitarist Jesse Milnes, is a sly, lowdown proto-rockabilly boogie with unexpectedly fiery cajun tinges, a tantalizingly brief duel between guitarists Ross Bellenoit and Ryan Hommel, and a trick ending. The album’s sad, swaying, aphoristic title track, a concert favorite, feels like an Ernest Tubb radio hit spiced up with a little Chuck Berry guitar. On one hand, the story of the redneck landlord/tenant confrontation in I’m Gonna Cry is just plain funny, but coming from a band more or less based in Brooklyn, that scenario takes on a more soberingly sinister level of meaning.
It’s All Your Fault is a showcase for the band, with solos all around from fiddle, to bass, to guitar, and finally a long, triumphant one from Brain Cloud clarinetist Dennis Lichtman. The wistful waltz One Day at a Time offers an intriguing new way of responding if your true love should unexpectedly pop the question. Keening pedal steel and gentle fiddle fuels the catchy, midtempo That’s All it Took; a duet that would be infinitely improved if just the band’s two frontwomen were singing it.
The cover of Marty Robbins’ Don’t Worry is the most surreal and musically amusing song on the album, an anachronistic mashup of hard honkytonk, early swamp rock and fuzztone 60s psychedelia. The album winds up with a lush, harmony-infused cover of George Jones’ classic honkytonk waltz If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will). It’s impossible to think of a better hard country record than this released this year.