I interviewed Jackson Kincheloe of Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds right after the band’s performance on the afternoon of Sunday, July 21 2013 at Targheefest in Alta, Wyoming. The band sounded great at this show, with a sound that combined a horn section of bari sax, trombone, and trumpet, a female lead singer with a big R&B tone, a BIG rock guitar, an amped harmonica, and a rock rhythm section with heavy amped bass. The band evokes a lot of genres from the 1960s forward, starting with soul, but they never sound anything but contemporary. No soul band from the ’60s would have featured a hard rock guitar like this one, and no band from the 60s would have used harmonica the way Jackson Kincheloe uses it in this band.

Jackson Kincheloe rockin' at Targheefest, July 21 2013
Jackson Kincheloe (center) rockin’ at Targheefest, July 21 2013

In some ways SSATDB remind me of Huey Lewis and the News, though no one would mistake one for the other. Both bands add rock swagger to R&B precision to deliver colorful songs with big beats and occasional huge walls of sound. Both bands feature a charismatic lead singer. Both bands use horns (the superb Johnny Cola on tenor sax in Lewis’s case) and loud rock guitars. Both bands feature harmonica. A final thing both bands have in common is that they make you wanna dance.

One thing that Sister Sparrow has going for it in spades is players who can play. The grooves are very satisfying, and the band effectively cops styles ranging from traditional dixieland to hard rock. Every one of the players is a powerful soloist. I was pretty impressed to hear how tough the horn players sounded in this style, especially considering that they were up against a very hard-driving guitarist. The singer, Jackson’s younger sister Arleigh, just blows the roof off whenever she opens her mouth.

Jackson held his own in this company with a wide range of harmonica sounds, ranging from straight-up amped blues harp to synth-y textures. A highlight was his extended solo harmonica intro to one of their tunes, which began with straightforward chugging, and evolved into something much bigger, with three tempo changes and a tight duet with the drummer (whose last name, like Jackson and his sister, is Kincheloe). A couple of girls standing near me in front of the stage were staring at Jackson, nodding their heads in time with the music, and smiling, so he got them off. It worked for me too.

Jackson uses a range of FX onstage, including chorus, delay, a MiniPog octave divider, a Boss PS-6 pitch shifter, a Maxon Autowah, and a pretty hefty tube amp, and other stuff that we’ll describe in detail in a followon post. The main point is that he uses the FX to get a lot of variety in the sound. He can do traditional amped and acoustic harp sounds, and he plays plenty of licks with the horn section; but on a lot of songs, he turns on the FX and fills in the band’s sound with the kinds of things that strings or an organ might play. In that sense, he’s playing the role that the keyboardist in Huey Lewis and the News said was his in an interview years ago: adding color. It’s very cool stuff.

I talked to Jackson for 40 minutes after the Targheefest show, and it’s gonna take a few days to edit it for public consumption. Meanwhile the band is on tour. It’s a great idea to go see them if they’re playing near your town. You can get their tour schedule here. By the time you get back from the show, the interview will be up.