Amber Rachelle & The Sweet Potatoes • Two Sweet

Amber Rachelle & The Sweet Potatoes • Two SweetI’ve had a lot of unsolicited CDs lately, which have made up the bulk of my recent album reviews. And while it’s always nice to get mail—and makes the task of reviewing records a little quicker and simpler—it does tend to skew one’s listening in a particular direction: towards older, more established outfits with proactive PR firms. So it was refreshing to dive back into Bandcamp this month, to see what younger up-and-coming bands are putting out without the benefit of a hefty promo budget.

Too Sweet, by Amber Rachelle and The Sweet Potatoes, leapt out at me with its vibrant cover art. This reflects a sound which is at once jazzy and poppy, reminding me of early Carsie Blanton. (Lindy hoppers will recall that “Baby Can Dance” was a big hit for her, circa 2010.) Whatever way you look at it, this one comes across very much as an album made for dancing to, featuring a range of tracks, tempos, and moods to satisfy everyone from blues (“A Good Man is Hard to Find”) to balboa (“Swing Brother, Swing”) practitioners.

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Most of the tunes featured sit within a range ideal for Lindy hop, offering plenty of bounce at a pace which won’t wear out your shoes. The band’s choice of covers is a mix of swing dance staples and lesser-heard numbers: “Shiny Stockings,” “In a Mellow Tone,” and “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” share album space with “Frim Fram Sauce,” “Drop Me off in Harlem,” and “5-10-15 Hours”—none of them particularly deep cuts, but welcome additions all the same. It might have been nice to hear something I’d never heard before, which seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, but I’m certainly not complaining.

I’ve previously praised female vocalists whose style is clean and uncomplicated—Darden Purcell, for instance—but hearing Rachelle reminds me why I’ll always prefer a singer whose voice is distinctively characterful. She exhibits tremendous dynamism, from bluesy to peppy, showcasing all those impressive, jazz vocalist skills like octave jumps to pitch bends. And it’s fascinating to hear tunes originally sung in that affected transatlantic accent by Ella, Billie, et al but in a more authentic-sounding midwest voice. (I’m happy to be corrected on my characterisation of American accents; I can probably discern them about as well as you could tell a Yorkshire drawl from a Lancashire one.)

Likewise, it’s nice to hear big band tunes like “In a Mellow Tone” done by a small combo—especially so soon after three days of big band at Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2024 (of which a review is coming soon). To me, the small group sound is port wine to the orchestral sound’s full-bodied red: refined, intensified. Take “Shiny Stockings,” for instance—an all-time favorite dance song which I’d always thought of as joyful, with its bombastic Basie brass. Only on hearing Rachelle’s stripped-back version, with its single wailing trumpet (Caleb Nelson) and sax (Connor Bigelow) skillfully trading fours, did I realize how sad the lyrics actually are. I don’t like it more than Basie, but I certainly don’t like it less.


Of the instrumentalists, drummer Rowan Cowan perhaps impressed me the most: his blistering solos on “Swing Brother Swing” and “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” left my mouth agape. It would have been nice to hear more from Tyler Hotti (guitar) and Steve Walch (bass), who get perhaps two solos each across the platter. Nor would I have said no to more of Cowan’s work—as loyally wed to the piano as I am, hearing a skilled jazz drummer really stretch their legs is, for me, an experience that’s always enjoyable.

The production values here are generally very good, with a couple of minor niggles. On one or two tracks— “Drop me off in Harlem,” for example—it seemed to me that the vocals were mixed rather high, floating above the instruments and giving the endeavor a very clean, studio-quality sound. While some might see that as a positive, I felt that a more even-tempered mix would have sounded a little more live and dynamic. But it really is a blip on an otherwise superlative sonic experience. I’ll be recommending this record to every swing dance DJ I know—and I recommend it to you, too. Check it out on Bandcamp, where it can be yours for just $15.

Dave Doyle is a swing dancer, dance teacher, and journalist based in Gloucestershire, England. Write him at [email protected]. Find him on Twitter @DaveDoyleComms.

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