The Trouble with Sweeney – Fishtown Briefcase

The Trouble with Sweeney
Fishtown Briefcase

Thanks to the likes of Wilco, Ryan Adams, and a handful of others, twang – twang as a metaphysical concept, that is – has been reestablished in our collective psyche. Suddenly, Beamers are blasting “I Walk the Line,” Wilco’s work is burgeoning on the iconic, and our President says “clearing brush” is one of his favorite pastimes. If I were at all upwardly mobile, I put my money in whiskey futures.

The term alt-country has become something like the Caucasian version of the amorphous misnomer “soul.” Fishtown Briefcase, the new album by Philly’s The Trouble with Sweeney, has, like the band’s other work, been wrongly categorized as alt-country. The album’s got both soul and twang to burn, though maybe not in the way you’d expect. Fishtown doesn’t directly address genre – not in the way an early Wilco record would, anyway. Instead, using a sort of Replacements-meets-Wilco on Vicodin sound, Fishtown Briefcase keeps the unexpected close at hand. How unexpected, you ask? Two words: Wings cover.

Sweeney’s easy-breasy cover of Wings’ “Listen to What the Man Said” is the best evidence of frontman Joey Sweeney’s knack for mélange. His voice, normally reeking – reeking in a good way – of Tweedy, Adams, late Westerberg, et. al., takes a melodic leap here that contains the angelic tones of soul and the hungover yearning of alt-country.

“I hope your Sleep is Dreamless” and “(A Girl Called) Your Song” are slow-tempo ode-to-a-girl songs that, while more consistently redolent of indie rock, are still brave and surprisingly concise. Sweeney can render a character – in the case of “(A Girl Called)” an untouchable, not-so-distant hottie – in only a few words. “Working for the DKNY,” Sweeney writes on “(A Girl Called),” “till she opens a shop of her own.” Mister Sweeney, I have a confession: I think that you wrote a song about that girl I stare at on the bus. How embarrassing.

Sadly, The Trouble With Sweeney, brandishing the best of alt-country and indie rock, is likely to be placed in one of those dreaded “best bands you’ve never heard of” bins of hip obscurity. It’s a cryin’ shame, however, to throw these guys in with alt-country castoffs, the sensitive and oblique indie-rockers, or toss them in the back of the records hops with the gag-worthy detritus of “folk-rock.” Truth is, only undersexed critics care about these distinctions. Sweeney, himself an award-winning music critic who’s appeared in publications like Philadelphia Weekly, certainly knows that songs trump movements any day. He’s got the songs to prove it.