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The Trouble With Sweeney
The Trouble With Sweeney
Burnt Toast Vinyl


The Trouble With Sweeney is… well, I can’t find a bit of trouble after a bit of listening. Listening to this band, I am reminded somewhat of early Dinosaur Jr., but without the noisiness… and that quickly fades into the familiar vibe of early Replacements’ records. The singer, Sweeney, can almost not sing as well as Paul Westerberg. I have taken to coining new sub genres of music for classification purposes of late, and so I deem this record alt-folk. How do you like that? There are no highly poetic lyrics to be found here, just a very nice rambling talking blues style of word delivery. It is a refreshing and welcome approach.

The thing that initially turned me off to this record was the immediate reference to reefer, kind of a personal hang up. But thankfully, I did not hit stop. What was to come was phenomenal. "The Way We Run Our Town" is a low fidelity, rambling tale about various people, who I would suppose make up "Our Town." And so I can forgive the drug references a bit more easily. By the beginning of the second track, "Do You Miss Me?" I am hooked on this band. With a meandering and sparse electric guitar underlying the prominent acoustic guitar that this band seems to take as its main instrument, "…Miss Me?" is a refreshing sound for pop music. The song moves along easily, almost floating its way straight to the heart. "Beholden" features some very nice harmonica, and sets a very Neil Young-like atmosphere. I think Sweeney is wearing his influences on his sleeve. Musically, "Beholden" is a piece of beautiful work, lacking in percussion and focused on a more minimalist sound. This song’s sparseness is its strength. This is also a fine example of the lyrical style that I can appreciate so well from this band: "If I’m the one-who-loves-you-now, then forever now. And furthermore, chicka-dee, I’m only beholden to thee-to the extent that I’m beholden." "He Has No Idea" begins with some nicely played tremolo country guitar, and proceeds to move into a nice abbreviated shuffle. The most country song on the album, it is also the most similar to sounding like the works of J. Mascis (see Flying Backwards.) "See, we had no idea that we’d ever get out of this apartment alive… I’ve been going through your things since five o’clock this afternoon-and that’s a mighty long time. To sort through all your little lies."

Track 5 was sounding awfully familiar to me… and then I realized that it was! This Neil Young sounding guy was actually covering a Neil Young song. And doing a fine job of it. Sweeney has taken a fine Young song, slowed it down, minimalized the accompaniment, and turned it into the countriest western song I ever heard. Winding up the record is a quiet rambling song, which feels somehow very autobiographical. "Telegram Stanley" starts out as a nice little song, and then, slowly at first and then more suddenly, it becomes the most urgent song of all time. From the story of a man taking what he can get while following his dreams of being a musician, and the various trials of his life, we are left with: "If it sounds like I’m trying to get a message to God, well, that’s because I am."

The first few songs on this record seem to be just songs… But as the record progresses, it seems to coalesce into a story about a life… one filled with a roller coaster of emotions. Everything is alright, and life is moving along just fine, maybe even some happiness. And then suddenly something happens, and life gets bad, and then to redeem it, everything gets worse. So bad that you have hit rock bottom, and you are calling out urgently for God to hear you. And that is where the record leaves you. The dilemma is completely unclassically unresolved. I don’t know if there is a message of hope there, or not. But I think that there may be.

Warning: This is not a record to listen to at 2 a.m. when you have not slept for over 24 hours. This IS a record to listen to if you like alt-country, or a less sarcastic Herman Jolly, or the Replacements. Possibly even Harvest era Neil Young. Where most alt-country today is focused on more of the darker Hank Williams side, Sweeney is focused more on the jug band, back woods side of country. The music is almost fun, almost melancholy, and almost hopeful. With the very fine music comes another fine bonus: in this package is some very interesting artwork, and not just 1, but 2 booklets from which you may choose up to 12 different covers for your cd jewel case. Nice job fellas.

-David DeVoe

Track Listing:

  1. The Way We Run Our Town
  2. Do You Miss Me?
  3. Beholden
  4. He Has No Idea
  5. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong
  6. Telegram Stanley


Mike Doughty



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