Harlis Sweetwater Band – Put it in Dirt
11 tracks / 51:37
Blues music can be found almost anywhere you look in the world, even in Surf City USA! Also known as Huntington Beach, California, this is home base for the Harlis Sweetwater Band, a group of guys you should get to know as they churn out their own brand righteous blues and rock.
Harlis is an Orange County native who received his love for music from his mom when she introduced him to Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, two of the most engaging performers ever. He has been playing out for a long time, founding Barrelhouse O.C. in the early 1990s and producing high energy shows and sounds that even the critics loved. They completed three albums and broke up in 2001, leaving Sweetwater free to pursue the music he was really interested in: greasy, funky, Southern blues. To create the music he loved, he put together the Harlis Sweetwater band in 2012 and released a well-received disc, Lights Goin’ Down.
Put it in Dirt is their follow-up disc, and it expands on what they accomplished with their debut. With a full horn section the magic of their live show is captured so it can be enjoyed whenever you need a pick-me-up. On this record, Sweetwater fronts the band and handles the vocals and guitar work, as well as acting as co-producer with Mike Troolines. He is joined on this project by Jason Hosler on bass, Jimmy Sena behind the drum kit, Geoff Yeaton on saxophone, Ken Shaw on trumpet, and Jed Thurkettle on trombone. Special guests include Eric Von Herzen on harp, Gary Brandin on pedal steel, and Sasha Smith on piano, Hammond organ and keys.
All of the songs on this album were penned by Harlis, and his songwriting skills are quite mature. The first song in the set is “Goin’ up the Mountain” and it has a huge sound and a frenzied southern rock feel. The most obvious component of the mix is Sweetwater’s tortured voice, and also prominent are the well-arranged horns that include a tremendous lead from Yeaton on the sax. The band takes things down a few notches for the next track, “Anna Lee,” a ballad that is ode to the woman (or is it women?) that Harlis left behind on his life’s journey. This song could have ended up with a Motown feel, but it hits a little harder and it comes off like a Marvin Gaye/Joe Cocker hybrid.
From there the band digs deeper and “Coolant Blues” checks all of the right boxes. The intro of this slow-paced dirty blues song is marked by trippy-sounding out of phase bass guitar from Hosler which is soon joined by a Von Herzen’s gnarly distorted harmonica. The lyrics are funny as the Harlis describes that his lady is possibly trying to poison him (literally). Then the rest of the band is stripped away for “Cornbread Blues” which leaves Sweetwater’s voice and resonator guitar out there for everyone to judge. He nails it, as his slide work and picking are fluid and natural, and he sings with true conviction. “Muddy Water” is another solo acoustic piece, but this time it as a folk rocker with more emphasis on Harlis’ singing, and his vocal strength is astounding.
The standout track comes near the end, and “Evil Spirit” has a cool honking harmonica intro that quickly morphs into a slick hard blues rocker. It has a stomping beat that almost overshadows some nifty work from Sasha Smith on the piano. Sweetwater also cuts loose with a heavy electric guitar solo that shows that he comfortable playing all types of the rocking genres.
Closing out the album is “12th Street Lonely Blues,” and this song makes for a strong finish. It goes pretty far towards the country edge of the blues spectrum with sweet pedal steel, honkytonk piano, and a pretty melody. Though this tune is relatively short compared to the other songs on this disc, they were still able to fit in tasty solos from Brandin and Sweetwater. Taking it in context, the softer sound and mood of this track present a suitable coda for a set that refuses to be confined to any single genre.
Put in in Dirt is strong sophomore effort from the Harlis Sweetwater Band with not a weak track to be found. They have their own sound that is a unique blend of greasy electric blues and soul that makes this album worth your time. Also, this is a hard working band with an exciting live show, so if you are in the Orange County make sure to take the time to check them out — you will not find anything else like it in the Southland!