CMJ Unknowns: Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds

10/15/2009 2:19 PM |


As you probably already know, our annual CMJ Preview is on streets, and I guess the internet, right now. In addition to complete festival listings, we’ve made recommendations for each day, and we’ve got a number of longer pieces about some bands we find particularly noteworthy. That’s 27 pages of CMJ-related content, and we still haven’t even scratched the surface. There are hundreds of bands we’ve never heard of, so over the next few days, and throughout the festival, even, we’ll be listening to a handful, at random, and letting you know what we find.

First up, we’ve got Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, chosen mostly because I think their name is kind of funny, but also because their show happens to be listed on page 41 of the magazine, which is really easy to open to because it’s the center-spread. Click through to see what they’re all about.


Oh, well they’re from here for one. From the photo on their MySpace page, I’ve gathered that Sister Sparrow is the woman sitting at the center of their press photo, and that the Dirty Birds are the six men surrounding her. I’ve also gathered that the dude immediately to her left looks exactly how I imagine Justin Timberlake would look if he were in an alt-country band. They characterize themselves as “funk/rock/soul,” and they list their parents as their first influence.

First, I’ll listen to “Freight Train,” which has the most plays of the four songs posted. Pretty nice guitar tone, lots of reverb. I would guess it’s a strat. Once the singing kicks in, the soul thing becomes prevalent. There are horns, which work wonderfully, a harmonica, which shouldn’t, but does. There’s a brief guitar solo, which isn’t working for me at all—awkward phrasing, and whatever effect is on there is way too much. The lyrics, about some sort of mystery man who knocks our narrator off her feet, are perfectly inoffensive. There’s a nice harmonica solo and then a pleasantly rowdy outro. Definitely leaning toward old-people rock, but then again, so am I. Not bad at all.

One more? Yes, let’s go with “Boom Boom,” which I will assume is the newest because it has the least amount of plays. Hmm, weird. Super trebly, reverb-heavy guitar part that has me worried this is going to be a ska song. A bright, wandering bassline sits below it, and I’m feeling it for about ten seconds, until the singing comes in and distracts me. It’s a nice melody, but the whole thing feels a little cheesy. Oh, then it gets much cheesier, with this whole “I made your heart go boom boom boom” thing, which I guess I’m actually enjoying? Strange. More harmonica, and I think some horns have joined the guitars on the up-beats. Two minutes in, and she’s back to the “boom boom boom” thing. I notice we’ve still got three minutes to go. This song is definitely too long. There’s a nice bridge at 2:40, with some much-appreciated dissonance, followed by an uninspiring instrumental passage and a few too many refrains. Not bad, not great.

So, there you have it. Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds: definitely not the next big blog-rock phenomenon, but nice enough for people who just love sorta old-fashioned rock and roll. I never understand what the ideal career arc is for bands like this, who seem to have such easily digested reference points, but for whom there’s quite obviously no place in the mainstream. Is this the new bar rock?

Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds play Rockwood Music Hall at midnight on Friday, October 23rd.

4 Comment

  • Thanks for the review. I do play a Strat, good guess. For what it’s worth, no effects were used on the guitar solo on “Freight Train.” It was all in the hands.


  • Also, you seem to be implying that if a band doesn’t fit your definition of “mainstream” (whatever the completely nebulous, entirely personal definition of that word is, as it applies to music), that it’s not worthwhile listening. That’s quite a bold statement; we clearly have vastly different conceptions of what the word “mainstream” means when referring to the music world. I’m surprised to even see that word in print.


  • Wow, Mike Conklin is an asshole.

  • Sister Sparrow and the dirty birds is the best act in NY these days.Period.