Amidst the Bulgarian, Georgian, and shape-note music that Zara Bode and Emily Miller were performing in venues across Europe with Northern Harmony, a Vermont-based choir, the pair discovered that they shared a mutual love for old-school country music duets -- a la the Louvin and Osborne Brothers, and the Davis Sisters. A few months later, they found themselves harmonizing (with the backing of some musically skilled friends) in a decidedly less opulent atmosphere -- Freddy's Bar and Backroom in Brooklyn, New York. It was there that The Sweetback Sisters were born.

Each member of the current ensemble -- which will be headlining the Hooker-Dunham Theater on Saturday night -- brings an eclectic background to the Sweetback's ever-expanding sound. Bode has a background in musical theater, jazz and '70s country. Guitarist Ross Bellenoit has a degree in jazz performance and a strong background in classical guitar. Southern Vermont's own Stefan Amidon grew up performing with his family singing traditional American songs and performing contra dance music and then went on to earn a degree in jazz drumming from Oberlin. Fiddler Jesse Milnes dabbles in bluegrass and is a two-time West Virginia state fiddle champion. Miller was raised by old-time country musicians and began playing the fiddle as a toddler.

Miller was keyed up to discuss the Sweetback's "Chicken Ain't Chicken," their first full-length CD to be released in June by Signature Sounds.

"I think that this record will be exciting to folks who have heard the Sweetback Sisters before; it's playful and heartfelt with a good dose of rockin' out. But I also think that there's enough of a departure from straight-up early country music that it will also appeal to people who have never felt drawn to the country genre.

"Oh! And there's harmony yodeling. What album is complete without that?"

The record includes an original by Milnes as well as compostions by Josh Ritter and Sometymes Why's Kristin Andreassen, as well Sweetback interpretations of classics by the likes of George Jones, Ray Price, Jimmy Martin, Bill Monroe and Buck Owens. I asked Miller how the band goes about choosing which nugget to cover.

"We generally lean towards peppy cowboy swing songs heartwrenchingly sad love songs or vengeful love songs," she added. "Whoever brings the song to the table usually has a rudimentary idea of a musical direction it could go in and then the other members add in their two cents till it sounds right."

The seeds for the band may have been planted across the pond, but the Brooklyn-based Sweetbacks have roots in the Green Mountain State and look forward to performig in our neck of the woods.

"We love playing in Brattleboro. Stefan grew up in Brattleboro, I went high school at the Putney School, and Zara lived in nearby Northampton, so we have always felt a connection to Windham County. The Hooker-Dunham is a particularly nice place ... the space itself is intimate and cozy, and the crowd that comes out is fabulous.

"Performing live is really what being a musician is all about. And performing with friends for friends is the most rewarding of all."

On Friday night, The Sweetback Sisters will be in Northampton, warming up the Iron Horse audience for The Sacred Shakers, a critically acclaimed side project of The Eilen Jewell band that plays bluesy country-tinged gospel."

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