I don't know the cumulative years of studio experience among the lineup of the Sweetwater All Stars, but I'm guessing it's in the centuries. These musicians know their craft, but it's not the technical prowess gleaned from decades of playing that shines the brightest on the collection of covers. Rather, it's the sonic warmth that comes from professionals who know how to make a polished record without pushing the production too far.
For the most part, the album's track listing lives comfortably in that place where soul, gospel and R&B met rock in the 60s. Many of the tracks depend on the powerful vocals of Kat Bowser, who evokes Etta James via Janis Joplin on "Tell Mama" and adds a punch to The Band's "The Weight." "Cry Me a River" is an all-out party, and "Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday" is smooth perfection.
When the trajectory veers toward pop, the All Stars pull it back toward more old-school forms. "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" gets an R&B makeover, and Bowser elevates "Take Me to the Pilot" higher into the gospel realm than even Elton John did.
The whole thing is underpinned by the rock solid rhythm section of drummer Nick D'Virgilio and bassists Mark Hornsby and Dave Martin. Bright warmth is provided by a horn section that adds color without getting slicked down with production frills.
The All Stars clearly have an affection for a pivotal moment in American music history, and, fortunately, they also have the musical maturity to know how to capture the spirit of that moment in the studio.
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A Christmas Carol
November 24 • Honeywell Center