Blues rock contains many subsects within the larger genre, and for those interested in rougher, edgier blues, the Harlis Sweetwater Band is a unique find. This Huntington Beach, CA five-piece is comprised of Jimmy Sena on drums, Chris Lou on bass, Ken Shaw on trumpet, Jed Thurkettle on trombone, and namesake Harlis Sweetwater leading them all on guitar and vocals. By embellishing traditional blues riffs with their sonorous brass section, the Harlis Sweetwater Band delivers a feisty musical experience on Lights Goin’ Down that makes for a solid debut record.
Across the seven songs presented on the album, the members of the Harlis Sweetwater Band give a nod to blues history while forging forward with their own hard blues style. The romping rhythm shifts of “I Just Wanna Be Your Lover” show a band that is in control musically and capable of driving home catchy riffs. “I Can’t Justify” measures up as one of the best tracks on the album, earning credit for the tight interplay between musicians and for the soulful sound generated by its recurring keyboard line.
All the punch that the Harlis Sweetwater Band packs into their record’s key features demonstrates that this band has a tight grasp on what they want their identity to be as a group. Still, for all the power and skill built into the songs, Lights Goin’ Down does have its weaknesses. The album opens with a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Backdoor Man,” a classic work cherished by all blues fans that made history when the Doors covered it on their 1967 debut. Though the Harlis Sweetwater Band’s version is reminiscent of Dixon’s own rendition in the cadence of Sweetwater’s vocal delivery, the song barely scratches the surface of the connection Jim Morrison once introduced or the humanistic grit Howlin’ Wolf created on the first-ever recording; instead, the rhythmic and guitar-picking strengths of the Harlis Sweetwater Band drown in the frenetic and overpowering vocals. Duking it out with blues and rock legends is a tricky business for any band, and while this group demonstrates real artistic merit in their original songs, their cover of a storied blues classic does not quite deliver.
Fueled by snappy tempos and drenched in traditional blues sounds and styles, Lights Goin’ Down emerges as a representation of a genre’s progression as the blues moves into modern times. In this collection, rhythm is key: from laying down a dedicated beat on “Like a Woman Should” to expertly juggling multiple rhythms on “I Just Wanna Be Your Lover,” the Harlis Sweetwater Band is notable for their sheer technical power and prowess. Each new listen unveils new complexities woven into the album’s instrumental layers, and with such irrefutable beats driven into its core, Lights Goin’ Down is sure to keep anyone’s foot tapping along.
The Review: 7/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– I Can’t Justify
– I Just Wanna Be Your Lover
– Mistreater Blues
The Big Hit
– I Can’t Justify
Review by Meghan Roos