The Trouble with Sweeney – S/T EP

Since the dawning of Will Oldham and his various cohorts on various many albums, there has been an influx of soft-singing, acoustic-guitar-playing acts rising from every place, from Montauk, NY to sunny California. Some of this growth has been good for music. Certainly, the Palace Bros. have brought us some memorable tunes, and other bands like Songs: Ohia have surprised with some tasty morsels. Both of these bands taught the world that you could write a good song and carry it with meaning without a super-skilled singing voice.
Now, of course, the problem with being blessed with all these singer/songwriter “gems” is that there was also an influx of singer/songwriter types who could sing like the dickens but couldn’t write a unique note to save themselves; AND the other half could write a good song but couldn’t sing worth a damn – and the list here is endless.
Now, I don’t ask my indie/pop/rock/emo singers to have stunning voices and always be on tune, but you DO have to draw the line somewhere, and here is where I am drawing it: The Trouble with Sweeney.
This album has its moments. In fact, the first two songs start out very promising. “The Way We Run Our Town” is a light acoustic ballad (as you might expect) with a meandering approach, surreal lyrics, and a good hook or two – and this is all, despite the fact that Joe Sweeney’s vocals do only an adequate job keeping up with the quality of his songwriting. This is a moving song that has no vocal sting.
“Do You Miss Me” is the second tune on this six-song release, and it makes you wonder why Sweeney doesn’t always sing with this conviction and style. On this song, he pulls the vocals off. Consequently, it ends up being the most genuine effort on this album. There are, as expected, beautiful acoustic chords, a lovely, light electric ditty (I think I hear “Sea and Cake” here too), and catchy lyrics (of course, it all does go on too long at four minutes plus).
The rest of this album is an odd mix of pretty good songwriting and absolutely horrible singing. The light acoustic fluffiness continues but without any vocal support to speak of (never end a sentence with a preposition). If Mr. Sweeney were up in front of a live crowd singing these songs, I gather there would be a lot of wincing and squinting as we all attempted to help him through the notes. But Joe’s voice is so limited. His imagination vocally is limited as well. Lyrically he is way above average.
So, the rest of this album follows this line of nice tunes and uneven swoons. Some have a country flavor. Others are more provocative, like “Telegram Stanley.” Then there is a super-boring rendition of Neil Young’s “Flying on the Ground is Wrong.” These breathy vocals have no range or purpose.
The whole album is a shame really. With a good singer with a lot of imagination, this music really might have some “lift-off.” Perhaps in the future, Sweeney will work on writing, but leave the singing to others. I think we would all, including Joe, benefit from this approach, as there is no doubt that the man can write a good song.