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The Sidleys: Breathless
by George Graham
(Blue Note Records as broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/15/2020)
Family bands have long been part of the music scene, going back to the Carter Family, The Jackson Five and the Osmonds. It seems as if there have been ever more such groups in recent years, including quite a few we featured recently on this album review series, such as Pharis and Jason Romero, the Brothers Landreth, Ordinary Elephant, The Currys and Shadowfields. Many are spouse bands -- in some cases they formed the band before the marriage -- and some are sibling groups. This week we have a five member band with parents and three sons. They are appropriately called the Sidleys, and they hail from Bethesda, Maryland.
Parent-offspring bands can be novelty acts, with the kids brought out to show off and take their time in the spotlight. But the Sidleys are a no-excuses high-quality melodic rock and soul group, who have just released their third album Breathless.
Patriarch Steve Sidley is a classically trained musician, who serves as a multi-instrumentalist. He played bass for a number of Washington, DC, area bands including Vertical Horizon, and released a solo album under the name Mojo Nation. His wife Annie Sidley recorded three solo albums between 1995 and 2007.
Annie and Steve first recorded as The Sidleys in 2013 on an album called Bittersweet, which was basically the two spouses. But their three sons, Sean, Colin and Ian were immersed in their musical family, and had of course, played with their parents around the house growing up. So in 2017 while they were still in their late teens, they became full-fledged members of the group for their second album The Love You Make, with oldest son Sean Sidley on drums, middle brother Colin on bass and the youngest Ian Sidley on keyboards. These days, the sons are working professionally, with Colin and Ian studying music in college. Ian was also a winner of a 2020 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival award.
Annie is the one who generally comes up with the ideas for the songs, with husband Steve filling in more musical details. Both draw their influence from classic soul with Annie specifically citing Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and Prince as influences. Husband Steve on the first album, layered in most of the parts himself, but with the three sons in the band, they provided stylistic contributions, with keyboardist Ian and bassist Colin showing their jazz and fusion influence at times.
The result is intelligent, appealing, melodic soul-influenced rock that draws on classic ingredients, but still sounds fresh. The lyric topics are rather classic in form, love unrequited and otherwise, with joy and sorrow visiting at various times.
Opening is Lately I Don’t See You Anymore, which typifies the infectious blend that the Sidleys serve up, with the strong vocals of Annie Sidley. <<>>
With more of a rock direction is Break Your Fall, another well-written song, showing the coherence of the family band. <<>>
A song called Lullabies can shows a little Beatles influence, which is nothing to complain about. The despite the title, the lyrics are more about sorrow than the calming that lullabies are supposed to provide. <<>>
Showing their classic soul influence is the Sidleys’ song I Didn’t Know, another well-crafted composition. <<>>
About the most contemplative-sounding track on the album is the title song Breathless, with Steve Sidley’s acoustic guitar featured prominently. The Sidleys brought in a string arrangement, which is handled tastefully. <<>>
Colin Sidley does on lead vocal on a track called Undone. While Annie Sidley is the better singer, it provides a nice change of pace. <<>>
A showcase for Annie Sidley’s soul influence is Sweetest Hush, which also brings in the string arrangement. It definitely has a classic sound. <<>>
The album closes with a piece called Ghost, which is particularly nicely arranged with bits of musical ghostliness provided by Ian Sidley’s keyboard. <<>>
Breathless, the new album by the Washington, DC, area family band the Sidleys may not make history as being innovative or iconoclastic. But sometimes, it’s good to hear new music in a kind of classic form, especially when written and played as tastefully as these two parents and three sons do on this recording, their second together as a full family. It’s definitely not a novelty act. In fact when I first heard the album, I was not aware of that they were two generations. The parents do write the music and rely on their more classic influences, but the sons, in their late teens and early 20s, being their own ingredients to the mix, and their playing is first-rate.
Our grade for audio quality is close to an “A.” The home-studio-made recording is top-notch, with clean sound and an unfettered mix that has everything in the right place and does justice to Annie Sidley’s vocals.
Regardless of the family origin of the album, The Sidleys' Breathless provides some great listening that draws on musical ingredients that have stood the test of time.
(c) Copyright 2020 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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