Unfortunately we missed the Sweeplings for 2015, so we invite you to check out their album Rise and Fall. But they have presented us with some pretty amazing music in the meantime, including some winter songs perfect for this holiday season. Let me be clear: If you were a fan of The Civil Wars, you absolutely MUST listen to The Sweeplings. They are an amazing male-female duo and one of the best folk acts in music today.
The opening cover of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is what you might call a “high art” version of the children’s classic. The instrumentation, dynamics, and intonation and stunning. The song is bumped into a minor key, providing a superb haunting feeling. It’s really an outstanding beginning to a phenomenal short album. It was actually their cover of “Cotton Eyed Joe” that helped me find the band. It sounds like a silly, almost ludicrous choice of song to cover. However, they dramatically slowed down the song, giving it a sort of “Oh Hellos” reimagining. The lead by Cami Bradley is crystalline, stealing the show. Whitney Dean’s incisive harmonies make the lyrics pop in a way that you might not expect from such a popular song.
“Chains” has a beautiful, simple structure that highlights intimate vocals and subtle melodic details perfectly. The following “Some Things Just Stick Out In Your Mind” gets something like a Sleeping at Last retelling. The song’s sonic structure is similar to others on the album, but it rolls along with a deep and powerful swoon that helps the song really resonate. “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” feels like more of a roots track, but again shows off the class work on the vocals. This track, too, allows Dean to take lead for a bit. The two sing like well trained dancers, seemingly adjusting to each other on the move. It’s a chemistry rarely heard in our contemporary music climate.
“Winter’s Call” takes on a slightly different tone, including the opening title track that has a bit more of an optimistic tenor. The tune feels more like something you’d hear on a Christmas playlist from some sort of big box store, trying to get you to feel good while you spend money in their store. I’m a huge fan of their cover of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” After all, it is kind of a dark song. Hearing it put into a dark, introspective style really seems to work for the song. It’s nice to hear it presented by an act that doesn’t croon it like a department store jam. The song’s underlying message is about distance, loneliness, and brokenness. This version preserves that message well.
“Never Again” is a challenging track, sounding maybe the most like The Civil Wars in a discography of a band that really echoes that iconic flavor. The female-male vocals on this one are quite breathtaking. As the acoustic part moves along, the song feels like an invitation to intimacy. The album fittingly ends with a classic “Carol of the Bells” reimagined as more of a pop folk song. It immediately conjures images of holiday revelers in hats, coats, and mittens singing away. The conventional rhythm of the song is disrupted a bit, taking the familiar syncopation and giving it a new energy. The harmonies on this song are a bit more subtle than some of the others on the album, but as the overall flow pushes Bradley into the alto part of her register, the sound feels rooted rather than soaring as some of the others do. It’s an exquisite ending.
These two short albums come together for an excellent bit of music from The Sweeplings. They’re not only a “band to watch” for me; I consider them one of the best bands of 2016. I fully intended to meet them one day and ask about a million questions about their music. In the meantime, wear out your digital copies of these fantastic albums, because as we learned with The Civil Wars, sounds like this can’t stay forever. The universe can only handle this kind of awesome in small bursts, so embrace them while you can.