Sooner or later it was bound to happen. A town the size of Lewisburg, PA, with a population about the same as the average Brooklyn street, just isn’t big enough to hold two talents the size of Earl Pickens and Bruce W. Derr. I can just imagine the tension that there must have been when these two first crossed paths - a volatile, dangerous moment that easily could have exploded into violence. Derr, the longtime Lewisburg resident, jealous of Pickens big city ways, playing in his venues and in front of his peeps. Pickens bullying his songs into people’s heads, trying desperately to steal Derr’s small town thunder. There’d be blood on the floor of the coffeehouse, maybe a strangling with a giant sunflower stem, maybe a smothering with a giant cowboy hat. Maybe worse.
Of course, all of this is just a scene from my lazy summer imagination, and Lewisburg, PA is, by all accounts, a very friendly, civilized place. And when Derr and Pickens first crossed paths there was no territorially motivated mayhem, but a mutual respect and genuine enthusiasm for the other’s music. That’s just speculation as well, but most likely more accurate, as the two have started a new band together. Derr, until recently a reclusive rock star in the making, and Pickens, a seasoned veteran of NY's folk-rock scene, have joined forces, formed The Sweetbriars, and are ready to conquer the world.
You might think that Derr’s lo-fi bedroom leanings and Pickens’ country crooning would make an odd mix. You’d be way wrong - these two different songwriting styles mesh perfectly on The Sweetbriar’s debut record, Please Pass The Revolution!, and show these two are a match made in rock 'n roll heaven. Derr and Pickens wrote all 10 tracks featured on the album together (except one which also features Derr’s brother Ben), and recorded them quickly with one goal in mind - to rock. Rock, that is, with a focus on tight harmonies and some old fashioned, good natured fun. The album mixes Tom Petty styled, radio-ready folk-rock, vintage 70s power-pop, and the “alternative” pop-rock that dominated A.O.R. airwaves in the 90s, and barely comes up for air for 35 minutes. Lead guitarist Paul Curcuruto and drummer Jake Kline, two natives of Central PA and longtime session men, give the songs added muscle.
Early highlights are the first single “Get Down Into It”, a socially conscious rocker that recalls, thematically, what Pickens did a few months ago during the Pennsylvania primaries (his Obama video was featured for a while on the Democratic nominees’ website), “No Way Home From Here”, an urgent folk-rocker with Jayhawks-esque duel vocals and a killer chorus (a line from which I've lifted for my header quote up there), and “Skeletons”, a Derr-sung song that would sound right at home on the first Golden Smog album. Overall there’s not a weak moment - this is a rousing, emotionally charged set of songs that you should check out, and lucky for you, 5 of ’em are streaming over at their myspace:
Stream :: I’ll Be The One / No Way Home From Here / Get Down Into It! / Parade / White As A Ghost (from Please Pass The Revolution! Buy here)
The Sweetbriars will be making their NYC debut this Saturday night at Hill Country. It’s a free CD release party that will be opened, conveniently enough, by Earl Pickens’ other band, Earl Pickens & The Band Named Thunder. Here’s the first video from Please Pass The Revolution! - for "Get Down Into It!" - and as you’d expect from a video made in part by Pickens, it’s good for more than a few smiles:
Earl Pickens - Singer, Wrong-Righter
Year In Review, Vol. 2 - Earl Pickens
Introducing: Bruce W. Derr
[mp3] Bruce W. Derr - “Mr. Personality”