Every year I find one or two albums that are so amazing I just have to cover them and The Sweeplings Rise and Fall (Deluxe) easily fit into that category. It’s hard to believe that there aren’t more people talking about their incredible sound. As I’ve written before, the easy comparison is the Civil Wars, but these two talented artists have their own unique brand of harmony. This album is an easy contender for my album of the year list coming out later this month.
Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the two voices are a woman from the Pacific Northwest and a man from the Deep South. Therein lies the interesting blend of modern folk with traditional folk. It’s a blending that jumps out immediately to the listener. Cami Bradley, from Washington state, has vocals that are sweeter than honey, with a smoothness that is consistently chills-inducing. Alabamian Whitney Dean sings perfect harmonies, that allow Bradley’s vocals to pop all the more. Dean’s haunting high tenor harmonies carry on a time-honored tradition of that “high lonesome sound” more often associated with bluegrass, but it comes through in spades with this remarkable duo.
“Carry Me Home” is an incredible way to get the album going, with plenty of breathtaking vocals twists and turns. The vibe of the peace is some sort of traditional folk music, but with plenty of modern production to help it cut through refreshingly. It leads nicely into the more contemporary “My Oh My,” which has a driving near-rock style beat at the core. When the two voices pass the melody on the bridge, then resolving to a harmonic line about souls seeking freedom. Whew. You’ll feel it.
“Under Your Spell” has an almost U2-style production element initially. Initially it feels a tad out of place, but as the vocals enter the track, the rest of the instrumentation takes a subservient role, allowing the main melody from Bradley’s vocal to soar. Once it really takes off, it feels cinematic and even a bit mysterious. Powerful stuff.
“Be by Our Side” feels like a lullaby and it might be my favorite song. Themes of living a good life and the end really drip through in the lyrics. It strikes me that it’s a spiritual song, but that does not mean a gospel track. It just has that prayerful and contemplative quality that is deeply, personally soothing. I know reviewers should be more technical than this, but I just genuinely love this song.
The track “Long Way Around” has more of a whimsical feel to it. There’s a lightness to the chord selection and progression that is a welcome break after a few songs that feel a bit deeper. The funny thing, though, if you listen to the lyrics on this one it is no less deep and meaningful. There are some nostalgic images about the past as well a sort of dreamlike vision for how to live life “taking the long way around.” It seems to be a metaphor about enjoying life rather than just going for the quick and efficient way to do things.
The song with the most “pop” appeal is probably “What Have We Become.” It strikes me as a candidate for country crossover because of the production. It swells from a small piano ballad into a much bigger pop country sound. The contemplative lyrics are relatable to anyone who has ever had a relationship go a little off the rails, where you have that moment where you ask “what have we become?” At that point the couple either figure it out and move forward, or cut and split. To capture that moment in a song is pretty impressive, although not exactly the kind of thing people want to scream out at a concert. But as a listener, I applaud the artistic decision to write a song bearing truth, rather than just commercial appeal.
“Come Rest Your Head” sounds like it was heavily influenced by soul music. You’ll hear just how closely related good country and good soul music are when you listen to this one. Oh and there’s an organ, so enjoy that! “Goodbye” then returns to more of a pure pop singer songwriter style track. It’s fun and positive, again dancing on that line of pop crossover but staying true to the powerful songwriting that defines the Sweeplings. “I’m not willing to lose you,” the key sentiment of the song, is about fighting for a relationship and it’s wrapped up in a genuine emotion that literally comes through the song.
“On and On” has a beautiful acoustic fingerpicking guitar part at the opening that leads to a lower-than-usual vocal from Bradley. The rolling style of the melody leads to one of the most satisfying harmonic choruses on the whole album. “Hold Me” is another romantic song with layers of raw emotion in it. The production on the track is excellent, allowing the voices to cut through but not leaving them stranded in space. The piano, especially, is the sea on which the voices float through the song. The harmonies here are haunting and familiar, conjuring some of the most Civil Wars comparison on the album.
“Flesh and Bones” has some great piano and guitar work that allow the minor-key magic of the vocals to do their work. Obviously it’s an earthy tune, with that quality of southern mountain music to it. It seems that the songwriters here have some familiarity with loneliness and brokenness. “Here and Now” has an intriguing vibe that feels bouncy and fun, yet is a bit more sinister it the actual lyrics. There’s a dark quality to the connection that makes it feel like maybe it’s forbidden for some reason. It’s certainly not the typical poppy romantic tune, but holds plenty of raw energy and tension.
If you can’t tell, I do really enjoy this album from start to finish. Some may have been listening this since 2015 when it originally released, but I can confidently say it’s worth adding (or re-adding) to your rotation. I am consistently amazed by the quality vocals here. The emotional roller coaster of the tracks will have you thinking of lovers current and past with all sorts of new perspectives. It’s a beautiful piece of art that could fit into folk, Americana, or even traditional country genres. No matter what you call it, this is amazing music.