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Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Front women Christa DiBiase and Amanda Guilbeaux Write Punchy Country Tunes With a Strong Rock Edge Exploring Love in All Its Darkest and Brightest Aspects Sweet Felony is the singing and songwriting partnership of Christa DiBiase and Amanda Guilbeaux. Both women are long time veterans of the San Francisco indie music scene, with impressive resumes and varied musical interests that include stints in swing, rock, punk and experimental bands. Guilbeaux is a self-taught singer/keyboard/guitar player who started writing songs as a teen, inspired by Neko Case and Rufus Wainwright. DiBiase is a classical flute player, turned rock drummer. "Amanda and I played in a couple projects when I was a drummer," DiBiase recalls. "When we did back up vocals together, we sounded great. She was learning guitar and convinced me to take lessons with her." After a few lessons, the duo started jamming and country flavored songs began to flow from their pens. "The songs are emotional and personal reflections of heartache, love and moving on," Guilbeaux says. "Like our band name, the music encompasses our sweet and sinister sides." Sweet Felony became known for their soulful, stripped down performances, with their intertwining voices creating haunting harmonies that complimented their impressive tunes. After playing as an acoustic duo for a while, they added Mike Ingram (Texas Manglers, Pegi Young) on lead guitar and backing vocals; Carl Horne (Zen Guerilla, SuperSuckers) on bass and backing vocals and drummer Paulo Baldi (Cake, Les Claypool). They went into House of Faith Studios to make their self-produced mini-album, Split Ends Mend, while the songs were still fresh. The band's full, rich analogue sound suggests the glory days of country music, but they play with a rock edge. DiBiase and Guilbeaux share lead vocal duties, delivering songs that lift your spirits, even when they're singing about grief and regret. "Our songs come from the heart," DiBiase explains. "They helped us through some difficult times. We put a lot of passion into our singing in hopes that the audience can share our feelings." Emotions run high on the album's seven songs. Horn's driving bass line and a cheerful vocal from DiBiase propels "Truckstop," a jaunty, kick ass country rocker that details the rush of unexpected love. "At Night" is a slow, honky tonk stomper that rides a Walyon Jennings-like backbeat. DiBiase and Guilbeaux share moody lead vocals that flirt with satisfaction and desolation. A toy xylophone adds unexpected fills that keep the song from getting too heavy. Guilbeaux takes the lead on "Dream," a quiet song of lost love, marked by the duo's heartbreaking harmonies; it's the album's saddest song. Other highlights include "Love On," a reverb drenched ballad with the feel of a 50s R&B hit; "Just Friends," a tear-jerker with a lilting Latin rhythm and "Surrender" and "Us Again," bright rockers accented by Mike Ingram's concise electric guitar work. "We called the album Split Ends Mend because things always do get better," DiBiase says. "No matter how bad things are, you will survive, just as you'll get through your most harrowing bad hair day." Christa DiBiase was born and raised in a large Italian family in Portland, Maine. "Everyone was musical," DiBiase recalls. "Both grandfathers played accordion and piano, my dad would get us dancing to the sounds of The Beatles, Elvis and Deep Purple and my brothers and sisters all play instruments. I played flute until junior high when a girlfriend asked me to play drums in her band." She discovered she had a natural affinity for the drum kit and, after moving to San Francisco, played with Girlband and the celebrated drum/guitar duo Sassy, with Lynda Mandolyn. She picked up a guitar a couple years ago and started writing songs, surprising herself with the strong country feel of her music. Amanda Guilbeaux also comes from a musical family, a clan from Louisiana that relocated to Colorado. She played classical clarinet as a girl, but the rock and metal albums of her older brother and the music of Neko Case and other songwriters inspired her to learn piano and start writing her own material. In San Francisco, she played with eclectic, experimental bands like Blue Rabbit, Poor Sweet Creatures and The Comet Empire. "Recently, my songwriting has moved toward a more melodic, lyrical sound," Guilbeaux says. "I started playing with Christa about a year ago and something clicked. We were inspired by each other's life stories, the heartaches and uncanny similarities we share." Split Ends Mend will be available in stores and digital outlets in mid 2013. The band will support the release with local Bay Area gigs before launching a national tour with their new drummer Jefferson Marshall (Assemble Head of the Sunburst Sound). They're already writing songs for a full-length album, with a release planned for sometime in late 2013.