Soul artist Harlis Sweetwater will play Aztec
California native touring with band in support of new album 'Stomp, Holler & Growl'
FARMINGTON — It takes only a brief listen to determine that Southern California native Harlis Sweetwater is an old-school guy when it comes to the sound he favors.
Sweetwater and his band will perform this weekend at Crash Music in Aztec. They churn out a sweaty and energetic brand of Southern soul and blues, complete with buzzing horns, weathered but polished vocals and Sweetwater's own precise, driving guitar work. There is a gritty, roadhouse feel to everything he does, with strong echoes of the legendary Otis Redding, even as he avoids the sloppiness that too often accompanies the work of other artists who cultivate that same approach.
So it's hardly surprising that the hard-working Sweetwater is just as old school when it comes to the business side of his music career. He books his own shows, does most of the driving while on tour, arranges accommodations and takes care of all the other logistics that go hand in hand with playing dozens of dates a year all over the country.
"I like it, even though a lot of musicians don't," he said in a telephone interview last week from his California home. "These days, if you want things done the right way, you do it yourself. I'm still learning the process, but it's a matter of taking what you've learned and applying it."
The creative side of the business — playing guitar, singing and writing songs — is the easy part, Sweetwater said. It's the other demands that can become taxing, and he acknowledged that his insistence on maintaining so much control over his career may not always be wise from an artistic standpoint.
"I will say all these extra responsibilities, it kind of took its toll on my creativity," he said, explaining that is one reason three years went by before he released a follow-up to his 2014 disc "Put It in Dirt." The appropriately titled "Holler, Stomp & Growl" came out in early April, and Sweetwater and his band are gearing up for a busy summer of showcasing the new material across much of the western half of the country.
Those already familiar with his work will find little to quibble with here. Sweetwater likes to maintain a consistency to his sound, explaining that many of the artists or bands he holds in high esteem — ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughan, AC/DC — share or shared that philosophy, and their fans always knew what to expect.
"I've done other projects," he said. "But I always seem to come back to rock 'n' roll, blues and soul."
That doesn't mean Sweetwater doesn't mix it up every now and then. The powerful background vocals of recent addition Alva Copeland bring a spark to the new disc.
"She's got a phenomenal voice, rugged and soulful, and she complements my voice really well," he said.
But Sweetwater likes to keep most of the other elements the same when he records, taking advantage of the chemistry he has built with his band and even sticking to the same environment -- the Sound Asylum studio in Santa Ana, Calif.
"It's real comfortable for us," he said. "We feel at home there. We did our first two albums there, too, and we'll probably do our next one there."
While many artists prefer to record in different environments give each recording its own distinct atmosphere, Sweetwater takes the opposite approach.
"I like the familiarity of being comfortable and knowing the room," he said. "I have no desire to record anywhere else. I'm happy I get the results I do."
Sweetwater places a much greater value on capturing the feel and the vibe of a recording session than he does on taking advantage of the latest technological tools, and he argues that overproduction is the fastest way to drain all the life from a new album.
As a result, what you hear on a Harlis Sweetwater disc is what you get at a Harlis Sweetwater show — straightforward, tight, earnest and engaging, without a lot of frills. It's a formula to which he is devoted.
"I hope people feel the passion and the drive in (my) music," he said. "I also hope they take it and make it their own and relate to it in their own way. That's the ultimate experience — having somebody relate to what you're feeling."
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: The Harlis Sweetwater Band in concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 29
Where: Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. in Aztec
Tickets: $15 in advance at crashmusicaztec.com or 505-427-6748 or $18 at the door
For more information: Visit harlissweetwater.com
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Mad Dog 20/20 performs blues and country classics during dance night at 7 p.m. Friday at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. Admission is $5. Call 505-599-1148.
The Riverside Nature Center in Animas Park, just off Browning Parkway in Farmington, will present Compass Games from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. Visitors will learn to use a compass and follow a trail, and play games. Call 505-599-1422.
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