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Beaver County Time, Scott Tady
Posted: Sunday, May 5, 2013 12:45 am
The Sparrows took their sweet time, but did it right.
The result is “Magnolia Sessions,” the Ellwood City band’s smartly crafted sophomore album that’s a sizable step forward for them as recording artists.
Songs like “Amphetamine” and “Gone Too Long” twang and bang in all the right places, though a larger majority of songs, such as “Truck Driver’s Daughter” and “Hell or High Water,” allow vivid and bittersweet storytelling to unfold more patiently.
Singer T.C. Davis conveys a world-weary wisdom I’d guess was gleaned while gripping a longneck, or else the steering wheel of a dented vehicle barreling down some lonesome side road on a late-night solo ride.
His Sparrows bandmates Corey Gray (bass and vocals) and Chris Gray (guitar and mandolin) find a sashaying groove that’s pure Americana and up to snuff for any Adult Album Alternative radio station. Guest fiddle player Luke Zacherl of country band NoMAD helps root the songs rurally, as fellow session man Chris Leonardi supplies the soul seasoning on B3 and Wurlitzer organ.
I intend to play lead-off track/likely single “Star Crossed Love” in a few weeks when I do my monthly guest stint on 91.3-WYEP. Or if ‘YEP morning co-host Cindy Howes lets me, I might opt for the harder coated “Amphetamine.”
Spectators might have heard the Sparrows sample some new songs this weekend during gigs at Thursday’s in Bridgewater and the Ambridge Eagles Club.
“Official” album release parties are set for June 14 at Club Cafe on Pittsburgh’s South Side, and July 27 at the Ellwood City Saxons Club.
“We worked very hard on this album,” Corey Gray said. “Probably put over a year and a half into it.”
That included 35 days in studio, which ain’t cheap, as any musician will tell you.
“Every time we would run low on funds, we had a series of gigs to replenish the band fund,” Gray said. “We definitely took our time. Some of the tracks we learned in-studio. This is as close to ‘The album’ we always wanted to make’ as we may ever get.”
Their patience paid off, as fans new and old soon will discover.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Revolution had the pleasure of catching up with lead man TC Davis (Tom) to chat about his latest works and what puts him in the groove.
Last but not Least…
R. Which influential artist of this decade would you consider to be iconic, and if you could do a duet with him/her what song from the past would you sing?
TC. Jeez…well, I think we will see great things from like Mumford and Sons, & Kings of Leon…bands that still write their own music. icon is a big word. I think it’s used a bit “loosely” nowadays. i think of “Icon” and Willie Nelson, or Tom Petty or Ray Charles come to mind…I’m not sure this decade will produce such talent. Standards are a lot different today. Pretty first, talent second (or third)… it’s a mess, (haha)… but to answer the question… I think it would be cool to do a cover of an old Stones tune, say (“Wild Horses”) maybe Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush (Sugarland). They have a lot heart & Talent and a unique voice that stands out.
T.C Davis -guitar/vox
Chris Cray- guitar
For the past five years, Davis has been the lead vocalist and plays guitar with The Sparrows, a musical group made up of Ellwood City brothers Corey Gray on bass and Chris Gray on guitar. The group plays his original music that he describes as nothing too electric — a mixture of rock ‘n’ roll and country.
The Sparrows are affiliated with The Americana Rock Company, a movement dedicated to performance, promotion and management to honor Americana music. “They take my simple acoustic sounds and the words, the bare bones that I write, and they turn it into a song. It is a great thing. They make it music,” Davis said. The collective is made up of The Sparrows, The Robbie Joy Band, Katianne Timko and Jordan Keith Robb.
When Davis graduated from high school in 1994, he joined the Marine Corps where he spent four years as a machine gunner. While stationed in North Carolina, he played the drums in a three-piece blues band.
Often, to give the other members or the band a break, he would sing two or three songs behind the drums. “Eventually, I got tired of lugging the drums around. The sets were over, the other guys were walking out the door, and I was still tearing down the drum sets,” Davis said. At 21, Davis learned to play the guitar when a friend in the band showed him a few chords. From there, he taught himself. He started writing music, but not performing.
In 1998, when he got out of the Marine Corps, he returned home to Ambridge, where he began going to jam nights at Junction Square in New Brighton trying to put a band together. He formed the band, Rust, popular locally, but a band that never took the next step. Eventually, it fizzled. “I got deeper into writing and away from performing as I built up a big catalog of my own work,” Davis said.
In 2007, he met the Gray brothers, who had formed the Sparrows. “I couldn’t believe they were right here and we hadn’t met. The best part is that we get along great,” Davis said. Davis works at Iron Mountain underground storage in Boyers, Pa., in the communication and video studio.
Keep Your Eyes On The Sparrows
A chance discovery walking home from school one day led brothers Corey and Chris Gray to an avocation that’s garnered them notice in the local music community.
Someone in their Franklin Township neighborhood threw a beaten-up acoustic guitar in the trash. They retrieved it, cleaned and painted it, and did what they could to restore it to a semblance of a musical instrument.
“We found it in the garbage, so you know it wasn’t a prize possession, but we made it work,” said Corey Gray, a 1995 graduate of Riverside High School who now lives in Ellwood City.
Chris Gray learned to play the guitar, but Corey Gray said he wasn’t interested until some time later. He decided to play the bass guitar because not many wanted to play it.
“It was a good decision. I get a lot of work because there aren’t many bass guitar players,” Corey Gray said.
Their father, Richard, teased Chris that if he learned to write a song, he would get him a real guitar. As Chris got a better guitar and the playing became better, it became a family joke that someday Dad would get them real guitars.
Five years ago, the joke became a reality when their parents, Richard and Nancy, gave Corey a rare 1973 Fender bass guitar and Chris received a one-of-a-kind, custom-made Girl Brand guitar.
“We are blessed with great parents,” Corey Gray said. “They have always supported us and encouraged us.”
The Gray brothers are members of The Sparrows, a group that plays pure, simple, Americana music.
“We play music that reflects on who we are and it relates to growing up in a small town,” Corey Gray said.
They named the group The Sparrows mainly because they couldn’t settle on a name.
“All year long, even in the winter, you see the sparrows. They are always here. The robins go away in the winter. So we are here and we have to just keep trying,” Corey Gray said.
The Sparrows also include Tom “T.C.” Davis from Wayne Township, who plays guitar and is the lead vocalist, and Dave Cable, a drummer from Patterson Township, who recently joined the group.
“It is hard to find guys devoted to this. There’s no big money in it; you just have to love what you’re doing,” Corey Gray said.
Since 2008, The Sparrows have been opening for nationally known groups and playing all over the tri-state. Upcoming gigs include appearances at Kelly’s Riverside Saloon in Bridgewater Jan. 14 and Feb. 4.
The band is working on a CD due for release soon.
Before The Sparrows, the Gray brothers played with Alisium, a rock group that went on to win the Graffiti Rock Challenge Battle of the Bands in Pittsburgh in 2005.
“Winning that seems to be cursed. We broke up after winning,” Corey Gray said.
Recently, The Sparrows joined The Americana Rock Company, a movement that prides itself on its dedication to performance, promotion and management in an effort to honor Americana music.
The collective is made up of The Sparrows, The Robbie Joy Band, Katianne Timko and Jordan Keith Robb.
Corey Gray said The Americana Rock Company is a musical brand that originated in the Rust Belt — music inspired by country, rock ‘n’ roll, folk, bluegrass, and soul, with a touch of the blue-collar work ethic of northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Come Monday…The Sparrows
Come Monday is a weekly series that will involve a review of, or commentary about, websites, movies, documentaries, television shows, sports, music, and whatever else may tickle my fancy at the time. Be assured that these reviews will be generally positive, as in accordance to the Jimmy Buffett song aCome Monday.a This is subject to change, however. In fact, I would be most derelict in my duties to neglect going on a rant every once in a while. For rants promote change, and change can be goodaright? Therefore, since good is generally considered as being a positive force in 99.3% of the parallel universes that I am aware of, even a rant could be considered as being something positive, and a genuine hissy-fit would be even better (so Iam told).
A few weeks ago, I received an email notification that The Sparrows wanted to be friends on MySpace. After reading that their reason for wanting this was because of seeing that I was a fan of Steve Earle, I enthusiastically approved of their request and promised that I would try to post a review of their music as soon as possible. For I had a afeelinga that I would enjoy their music as much as his.
Well, I was not disappointed in the least. On their MySpace page, they list the following as musical influences: The Band, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Lucinda Williams, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Leon Russell, The Beatles, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Long Ryders, Waylon Jennings, Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon, WILCO, Buck Owens, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, anything Motown, Johnny Cash, Chris Isaak, Willie Nelson, Uncle Tupelo, The Allman Brothers, Steve Earle, Drive-By Truckers, Ryan Adams, Humble Pie, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Gram Parsons, Cactus, Counting Crows, Son Volt, The Wallflowers, Joe Cocker, The Black Crowes, among many othersa Be assured that they did them all proud.
Needless to say, theirs is my kind of music. Regardless of what you want to call it, it is southern rock at its finest to me.
A good example of that is the opening lick on Feel Better. For it immediately took me back to hearing Jon Butcheras Wishes for the first time, and the rest was sawmill gravy heaped on a plate full of buttermilk biscuits. In other words, it was some really good stuff.
Alas, I regret not being able to provide Feel Better for you here. For I could not find an embeddable copy of it anywhere, but you can listen to the song on their MySpace page and at CD Baby.
No, that is not the only song of theirs that I fell in love with, and I was able to find an embeddable copy of Radio. The second video includes part of The Hitchhiker, which kicks in at around the 50 second mark, and if it doesnat get your toes to tappina, thereas something seriously wrong with you.
The truth is that I had a fairly hard time finding much of anything on them. For when I go to do a review like this, I look to see if I can find something other than what is provided on their MySpace page, and when I went to do this, the first thing I found was a website for another band by the same name, then a Wikipedia article about an early sixties Canadian rock band that later became Steppenwolf.
I suppose the reason why I had such a hard time is because they are a fairly new band that is yet to break out into the international spotlight, but if they keep playing the way they are, Iam sure it wonat be long before most everyone knows who The Sparrows are. Please, listen to what I mean.
The Sparrows are making sweet music.
The Ellwood City band’s bassist-vocalist Corey Gray, brother of guitarist Chris Gray, talks here about the months-old quintet that’s already flying high:
Q: Granted, the Eagles, Jayhawks and Black Crowes already were taken, but of all the bird names available to a band, why choose Sparrows?
A: The question kind of answers it. The Black Crowes, Eagles and Jayhawks are all bands we love and listen to. I guess the name has that Americana feel and thatas what we are attracted to. So it sort of fit the music. Really, though, it was the only name we could all agree on after hours and hours of terrible ideas and many deliberations. The Pelicans just doesnat have as good a ring to it.
Q: Your debut album, “Back in the Red,” and live performances both point to a band with an impressive range of influences. Which groups have inspired the Sparrows the most?
A: Without a doubt, the philosophy of the Band is a huge influence. We are all big fans of the way Levon Helm and company structured songs as stories and drove the songs with characteristic vocal parts. Also bands like the Wallflowers, Drive By Truckers, definitely Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Steve Earle, Gram Parsons. Generally the bands that spin a yarn in their songs. Straightforward and real. We are all songwriters in the Sparrows, so while we all have different influences, they can all be traced back to that Americana style.
Q: Many of the songs on “Back in the Red” have an earthy, rustic, alt-country-ish feel. Can we assume you guys wrote those songs while sitting around a campfire at a lakeside cabin, strumming acoustic guitars and passing around a jug?
A: I hope that’s how they feel. These songs were written from the heart. Songs about love found, love lost, love gone wrong. Tales of growing up in small-town Rust Belt, good ola western Pennsylvania. We have passed around the “jug,” or “gran-pap’s cough medicine,” whatever you want to call it, and made music. As for the cabin, most of our music is created by the main writer a whoever it may be a then honed and formed in Chris’s rehearsal space in Ellwood City, with the band. But there is definitely that clubhouse feeling in how these songs came together. There were many interesting, albeit late nights creating this music. That’s where everything comes together for us. Whatever ideas are brought to the table they are “Sparrowized” in that basement by the collective’s input. So when you hear the record, I think we were successful in conveying that we have lived in this music. Buy a record – campfire not included.
Q: Your drummer, Tommy Ray Hohnson, previously played in one of Pittsburgh’s best-known punk bands, the Cynics. Does he ever get confused on stage and start bashing out a Ramones riff in the middle of some twanged-up, foot-stomping Sparrows love song?
A: Tommy Ray has been around the block, toured Europe, etc., etc. He is a man of many hats (laughs). He’s a very reserved guy. Even after his considerable success in the Cynics, he’s never been that guy who alludes to his past too much. He’s always the one pushing us the hardest through the task at hand. I guess the transition from punk to country isn’t as far off as it first appears. When we get loose and goofy we can be known to bang through some heavier riffage. The line between punk rock and country can be blurred from time to time.
Q: I previously called the Sparrows my favorite new local band, as I am reminded every time I get one of your press releases and see my quote thrown back at me. So, what specific plans do the Sparrows have to become a major force in music, thus making me look like a genius?
A: This band has something right now that most bands spend their careers searching for. We all have the same creative drive and ambition. We all know that in order to be successful, a band must stay together. Mainly, we are all drawn to our original music and truly love to create it together. We are a group of friends who just happen to make great sounds together. For us, it’s about having fun, doing what we love, with friends. Everything else that comes along is a bonus. So far, that theory has worked well for us. As long as there are folks like you out there, giving us a leg up once in awhile. We are going to keep on trucking and writing and recording. Will we become a major force in music? You really can’t tell, now can you? If we can stay together and keep creating music and with a whole lot of luck, who knows?
Scott Tady can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The percussionist eventually came along when Hohnson Pittsburgh-area music enthusiasts may know him better as Tom Hohn through his work with the Cynics, the Frampton Brothers and Boss Diablo answered an ad for a roots-rock drummer with an affinity for such artists as Tom Petty, Steve Earle and the Wallflowers.
That was last fall, and the Sparrows cruised along for a while as a guitar-based quartet before the members started thinking about expanding their sound.
As Hohnson told the others, I know a guy who plays keyboards, but hes also an excellent sax player. It was like an instant chemistry thing when we rehearsed.
The man who made such a good impression is Jimmy Deal Watson, whom Hohnson had known since high school; they even played together in the jazz ensemble at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Watson, though, had drifted away from music over the years, until:
I think he just shot me an e-mail out of the blue one time, Hohnson recalls: If you ever come up with any bands or projects youd like me to play on, let me know.
Set as a quintet, the Sparrows went about recording what has emerged as the bands first album, Back in the Red, produced by Hohnsons Boss Diablo bandmate Chuck Beatty. Most of the material is written by Davis with input from the rest of the band as far as developing suitable, and often complex, arrangements.
Our objective is to interpret each original we come up with in a way thats correct for that particular song, Hohnson explains.
As such, the album serves as a showcase for the bands diversity. The opening track, Hitchhiker, is an earnest rocker that puts Davis voice and Chris Grays guitar playing on full display. Calico, by contrast, has a Dixieland vibe to it, with Watsons horn parts reminiscent of Preservation Hall.
Hohnson points to the closing number, Strangers, as a track on which he draws from the rhythms developed by legendary drummer John Bonham circa Led Zeppelins Houses of the Holy album.
The entire Back in the Red album is a treat for fans of harmony vocals, as the Sparrows do a commendable job of adapting from the standards set by bands like the Eagles and the Byrds.
A prime example is Cocaine and Marijuana, which opens with a four-part a cappella rendering of its catchy chorus. (The songs lyrics, by the way, would seem to be as much about lost love as other subjects.)
Hohnson says audiences have been very receptive to the original material, which the band mixes in with cover songs from a variety of sources. Some highlights on any given night might include a rave-up on Dave Masons Feelin Alright or Watsons sax jam on the Marshall Tucker Bands Cant You See.
An opportunity to see the Sparrows live is Saturday, Aug. 1, at the Eagles Lodge, 122 N. Central Ave., Canonsburg. The show, which starts at 9:30 p.m., has no cover charge, and free food even will be provided. For more information, call 724-745-7090.
And for more information about the Sparrows, visit www.thesparrows.us.
Original article is located at: http://www.observer-reporter.com/OR/Story/sparrows073009
Theyre the Sparrows out of Ellwood City, a quintet that instantly grabbed my attention last weekend when I walked in on their soundcheck and heard them playing The Shape Im In by The Band.
Clearly these Sparrows have good taste.
Good musical chops, too, with a lineup that includes drummer Tommy Ray Hohnson from such popular Pittsburgh bands as the Cynics and the Frampton Brothers, and the brothers Gray Chris on lead guitar and Corey on bass and vocals both formerly of Alisium, the 2004 winners of Pittsburghs Graffiti Rock Challenge.
I was absorbed by the Sparrows 30-minute set of Americana-ish indie-rock performed deftly during the always daunting opening timeslot of a battle of the bands. Specifically, the Sparrows started off round two of the Battle of the Burbs at Triple Play Cafe in Center Township.
Ultimately, the Sparrows finished second that night to another excellent band, rockabilly stalwarts Those Poor Devils, whom my two fellow Battle of the Burbs judges, Digby from 105.9-The X, and Eric Taylor of WDVE-FM, accurately noted had displayed more charisma and connected more deeply with the audience.
Hopefully, the Sparrows will heed some constructive criticism, and remember to intensify their stage presence. Im not saying they need matching suits, but maybe a few jokes or colorful asides to their audience will work wonders.
Catch the Sparrows this Saturday at the Monaca Draft House, then May 30 at the Edgewater Inn in Beaver Falls.
Scott Tady can be reached online at email@example.com