Sayonara, Sparrows

So far, 2005 hasn't been the best of times for Dallas musicians. Last week, we reported on a legal tangle that has the fate of the Curtain Club hanging in the balance. Next came news that before the Camper Van Beethoven concert at the Gypsy Tea Room on January 18, all the band's gear was swiped from the parking lot of their Comfort Suites hotel. And then, at the otherwise sublime Tsunami Benefit at the Granada, Sparrows front man Carter Albrecht announced the band was breaking up.

"We were spinning our wheels, career-wise," says the ever-direct Albrecht, who will continue in his role as keyboardist for Sorta. "We weren't doing the right things to play shows in front of new people and get out there." For more than three years, theirs was the classic Dallas curse: beloved by locals but virtually unknown beyond city limits. (They even had a song called "Dallas Curse.") It's a frustrating situation for a band with two acclaimed albums, Rock and Roll Days and Snowflakes (both on Summer Break Records), and a string of critical kudos--including being named the city's "Coolest Band" in D magazine and Albrecht winning the 2003 Dallas Observer Music Award for Musician of the Year. After a string of less-than-perfect 1:15 a.m. headlining gigs at Trees, the band decided it needed to stop playing local shows in order to concentrate on the road. But then, says Albrecht, "We did a couple road shows and went, 'Geez, if we were 22 instead of 32, maybe we could do this.'"

And so another great band slips off the Dallas radar. It's not tragic, but it's a bummer, especially on the heels of the recent dissolution of Slobberbone and Chomsky (a band that has, so far, declined to speak on its de facto breakup). But other than drummer Brant Cole, who is moving, Sparrows' other players will still knock around the local music scene; guitarist Ward Williams has plenty of front-man potential, and Albrecht is a musician so staggeringly talented that his continued presence in Dallas is becoming one of the city's great mysteries. When will some major label finally realize what this guy is capable of? In the meantime, we can look forward to solo work from Albrecht, with a few adjustments to sound and style.

"Sparrows were largely driven by Ward's sound," Albrecht says. "It was never a restriction, but it was an identifying factor. And he doesn't play in standard tuning--he plays in open tuning with slides, and it has a certain flavor to it. Whatever I do, it probably won't have a lot of that--unless he's the featured player."

A songwriter known for the silver-tongued kiss-offs of such tunes as "Bee Nice" and "Placebo," Albrecht may also be (somewhat) abandoning the bile. "One of the things I'm most relieved about is not having to perform so much negative material," he says. "It's not like [anger] is anything new to rock. I mean, that's the formula for rock and roll: Here's heartache--but it's fast." Still, Albrecht began to weary of his own lyrical angst. "I started getting worked up before shows, like, 'Do I have to sing that song that's so awful in front of a lot of people? What did they ever do to me?'"

At their best, however, Sparrows gave a double-barrel live performance that could knock the wind out of the room. "We got a little pat toward the end," Albrecht admits, "but most of the time we could get up and play and really be free with it." And he adds, with the carefree swagger of a man who often learned about his own gigs by reading this paper, "A lot of that had to do with the fact that we never rehearsed."

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Sarah Hepola