Last week, I spoke to Perry Allen, who plays guitar and does vocals for the Sparrows, a cross-country folk band with a new album out for free download on Jan. 20.
The band’s new album, “the Blue Door Sessions,” was recorded live in a Phoenix studio. One of the band’s members, Odetta Hartman, was not able to make the trip – so the rest of the members “re-imagined” the songs for the album, according to Allen.
Allen along with Chris Rubeo (guitar, mandolins, vocals), Dan Whitener (banjo, guitar, piano, mandolin, vocals), Brian Barth (multiple instruments) and Hartman (violin, guitar, vocals) make up the group for while everyone was in college in upstate New York.
The band came from a jam session at the school’s free recording studio after Allen and Rubeo had been making “ridiculous late night music in our dorm,” said Allen. Rubeo brought Barth, and Barth brought a banjo player (Whitener). After a impromptu show, they met Hartman and liked her vibe, so they invited her into the group.
Their name came from a friend. In certain ways, their name harkens to “folk America imagery” and “pays homage” to folk crossover bands like the Byrds, according to Allen. It’s also “kind of an adorable name,” Allen added.
Allen said the band is inspired by “the music we like,” which includes traditional folk, bluegrass, rock and roll, and electronic and ambient music. Everyone in the group writes their own songs (lyrics and music) and brings them to the entire band to perfect and practice. Allen said that system works well because the band members live across the U.S. and only get together every six months or so, where they practice, play shows and have recording sessions.
Even though they have limited time to work together, “it’s so chill, it’s so laid back,” Allen said. The bands tries to keep their music fresh and try new things – instead of feeling pressured to produce the same kind of songs over and over again.
The last session in Phoenix included a few shows around the Valley and the new album. Allen said the shows were very high-energy and fun. For live performance, the band likes to break out older folk tunes for sing-a-longs with the crowd, such as Woody Guthrie’s “Mail Myself to You.” The band has also played in before in Phoenix and in New York. They have been on one nationwide tour before.
Before the “Blue Door Sessions,” the Sparrows’ last album was “Rattle Creak and Murmur.” Rubeo produced, engineered and mixed that album as a school project, and the band decided to release it as their sophomore effort.
Allen said the album was a strain on Rubeo, between playing and producing, but it worked out.
Off “Rattle,” I like “Hole in the Floor,” a snarky track Whitener dreamed up while on a plane, according to Allen. With the vision of a song, he put it together without instruments, and blew everyone away that night when he unveiled the song.
Another song, “Shadow Puppets,” features Hartman’s vocals in a piercing but pleasant way. A song about relationships, Allen said Hartman’s fragility and humor comes out in the track.
One of the most interesting songs on “Rattle” in “Running Light,” an instrumental number in the middle of the album. The brainchild of Barth and his interest in experimental and electronic music, it gives the album a good break reminiscent of turning over a record.
I didn’t much care for “Stay,” though Allen told me that’s usually everyone’s favorite track.
As I said before, the Sparrows’ latest album is free – and that’s how they want it, according to Allen. He said the band just wants to share their music, though they may someday press some records. After they start wearing ties, that is.