THE TROUBLE WITH SWEENEY
Some records would sound better if they came in a plain brown wrapper, and Dear Life (Burnt Toast Vinyl), the second release by Philadelphia rock writer Joey Sweeney, is one of them. The sleeve is all pastel pink and green, with a twee photo of a young woman and a chocolate cake on the front and a shot of a forlorn geek holding a placard that reads "I AM SO LONELY" on the back. Inside, the liner notes consist of a comically overwritten and insufferably cute biography of the band (complete with footnotes), plus an acknowledgment that the cover photos were inspired by a Richard Brautigan paperback. But if you can bulldoze through this barbwire fence of clever irony, you'll discover a spirited and sincere collection of country-pop confessionals, similar in tone to those midperiod Byrds albums where a Goffin-King tune might turn up slathered in steel guitar. Wheezy, Dylan-esque harmonica punctuates "Two More People," in which the singer finds himself "Making all kinds of promises since I came unhinged / On the third day of a two-week binge / Now I've got two different girlfriends taking the place of you / Yeah, that's two more people tired of hearing about you." "Kitty," a guitar-heavy rocker nicely accented with wood block and Vibra-Slap, tells the grim tale of a good-time girl whose botched breast reduction leaves her with "little scars / Like half-moons or the holes in guitars." Producer Brian McTear lends unobtrusive banjo to "Ellwood City," in which the narrator's parents drag him to the title burg, separating him from his sweetheart in New Jersey, but Sweeney's secret weapon throughout is guitarist John Howkins, whose warm, pithy solos light up nearly every song. Sweeney and his band open for Royal City. Sunday, June 3, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.