The Trouble with Sweeney – Dear Life

The songs that The Trouble With Sweeney writes all seem to tell a little story. Often those stories about disillusionment and loneliness (the inside artwork bears a sign saying “I am so lonely”), yet they’re presented in such a way that you can’t help but smile and tap your feet. It’s as if head Sweeney, Joey Sweeney, is looking back on difficult times with a wry smile and a knowing nod. These songs seem to be the way he purges the memory and looks forward again.
To figure out where exactly The Trouble With Sweeney’s music fits into the grand scheme of things isn’t an easy task. Somewhere between folk, alt-country, and indie pop music, the Sweeneys’ music effortlessly pushes genres. Primarily acoustic yet with a very full, tight sound, these songs are warm and embracing, almost surprisingly sincere and comfortable.
The album starts with probably the most lighthearted and bouncy pop song here. “$500-A-Day Hall of Mirrors” sounds like a cross between Kind of Like Spitting and Belle & Sebastian, catchy yet sincere. And “Two More People,” with its harmonica and Paul Westerberg-like rhythms, almost floats into Neil Young territory. And don’t be surprised if “So Tough” lends a serious debt to Bruce Springsteen while possessing a built of a Pavement mentality.
But comparisons aside, each of these songs is unique and fresh, lead by Sweeney’s sincerity and warmth. His voice and nice acoustic guitar make the more country-pop feeling “Kitty” an absolute pleasure. “Master of the Scouts” is a nice, flowing pop song with some great instrumentation, and “The Ghosts of ’97” has a kind of overwhelming melancholy. It makes nice use of a sampled conversation too.
It’s really the lyrics – the stories Sweeney tells – that make this album shine. “Ooo, I’ve got a lot of love to give to the right girl,” Sweeney croons on the mellow “She is Right Here Tonight.” And “Ellwood City,” a nice slightly country rocker, seems to tell the story of a blossoming relationship: “Oh Anne Marie, do you miss New Jersey? If it’s meant to be, your folks will move out here too…I’ve got a really wonderful feeling that I am just like you.”
As if they can’t get away from telling stories, the liner notes include the band history in enjoyable prose form rather than lyrics. I’d like both, but the story is nice. It’s a nice counterpoint to the basically pop sound of this band. Call it folk-influenced, country-influenced, or just simple indie pop, but it deserves a listen either way. Fans of any of those genres will find this music just as warm and inviting as I did.