Sweetback Sisters at the Aztec Theater, 24 Oct 2014

Sweetback Sisters, Aztec Theater 24 Oct 14

My uncle used to love me but she died.
Chicken ain’t chicken until its lickin’ good and fried
Keep it on the sunny side.

-Sweetback Sisters

It is fun to be a critic. In pop culture, politics, academics, whatever, the world is a veritable shooting gallery full of pomp and circumstances that deserve the slings and arrows of the critical eye.  Yes, I’m aware of the idea that it is not the critic but the actor in the arena that gets things done, but so many of the actors are just SUCH easy targets.

I try to remember, tho, I’m not a critic to pull down but to build up.  When I volunteered in community radio, once we got established the DJs would slog thru hundreds of mailed-in CDs, along with a substantial back-library of vinyl, cassettes, even an 8-track or two, to fill their blocks of air-time.  Yet I would spend quite a lot of time (too much time) looking for new stuff, what other Roots DJs were playing, who my favorite venues were featuring.  And every day, out of the universe of sonic possibilities we curated, was built an on-air experience.

Last weekend, I was treated to a curated live experience that reminded me why we bother trying to find good music.  The Sweetback Sisters played the Aztec Theater in downtown Aztec, New Mexico.  Emily Miller and Zara Bode front the band, touring out of Brooklyn and West Virginia with six releases since 2007.  Support for the band comes from Jesse Milnes on fiddle, Stefan Amidon on drums, Peter Bitenc on upright bass, and Ryan Hommel on electric guitar.

The Sweetback Sisters channel the high-mountain harmonies of the Carter Family with the easy-going conviviality of The Andrews Sisters.  They play Faron Young and Kitty Wells, Bob Wills and Dwight Yoakam, and a fair selection of original music that could be classic cowboy country or modern Americana.  This is music to get up and move, Texas two-step or Tennessee walz, and the venue cleared the floor for the occasion.

At intermission, I talked to Emily a bit at the merch table (I have to buy my own music since I left the DJ gig).  She’s a smart and dedicated lass, and a nice person to boot.  No matter how hard I tried to give her an opening to bash on “country” radio and pop country media, she refused to take the bait.  Her music is Country music, she said.  Everybody else’s can be too, that’s ok for them.  She’ll just keep doing her thing and bringing a bit of fun and dancing into people’s lives.

At the end of the night, I made a crack about how the East coast didn’t really have real mountains and wished Zara well on their road trip up thru the Rockies to Denver.  They made their way then over to Salt Lake City by way of Laramie, Wyoming.  This weekend, they’re playing the Heber Valley Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Utah with such luminaries as Michael Martin Murphey, Suzy Bogguss and Gretchen Peters.  Yeehaw, these Sisters are worth saddling up your horse and taking a ride to see.




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