The first thing I do, after reaching Jeff Hamel on the phone, is to congratulate him and his band, SweetKiss Momma, for being voted best band in Tacoma by readers of the Weekly Volcano.
"Thanks you very much," says Hamel. "The Best of Puyallup issue is what we were hoping for, but we'll settle for Tacoma. (Laughs.)"
OK, best to get out in front of this potential controversy before it tears this town apart. SweetKiss Momma are, indeed, a Puyallup act. But! It must be noted, Hamel says, that half of the band has since relocated to Tacoma, which I'm pretty sure doesn't violate any of the Best of Tacoma's bylaws, ensuring that a recount need not be administered.
Volcano readers aren't the only ones who have been paying attention to SweetKiss Momma, to say the least. Since forming roughly five years ago, SweetKiss Momma came out of the gate running.
"Initially, we were all playing together as church musicians," says Hamel. "We had been playing together for a few years and decided that we wanted to do some original stuff, something definitely not gospel-y or spiritual stuff. Not that there's anything wrong with it; we just wanted to play some rock ‘n' roll."
SweetKiss Momma never intended to be a Southern rock band - they thought they were just writing rock songs. But, as audiences began to embrace them as Southern rock, the band began to embrace that style. Turns out they fit pretty well in that mold, to the point of getting the opportunity to have their newest record - A Reckoning Is Coming - produced by Ken Coomer (former member of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco) and mastered by Richard Dodd (who has worked with the likes of Tom Petty, Steve Earle, the Traveling Wilburys, and the Dixie Chicks).
In December, the band headed down to Nashville to lay down their album at Creative Workshop Recording.
"Initially, it was incredibly intimidating," says Hamel. "Right next to Creative Workshop is a studio called Blackbird Studios, which is the number one recording studio in the world. The day before we got there, Rush was finishing up their album. We literally missed meeting those guys by a stinking day. ... Like you'd imagine, all these platinum and gold records lining the wall - and the studio was big in the early ‘70s up to the early ‘80s, so there's a lot of Jimmy Buffet, Willie Nelson, some Johnny Cash stuff, and Dolly Parton. The story of this place is that Elvis Presley's last recording session was there."
That's a whole lot of pedigree for SweetKiss Momma to be walking into. Hamel jokes that he hopes some of that mojo seeped into his recording session.
From the opening drums of the muscular opening track, "Fix My Hair," A Reckoning Is Coming strives to dig SweetKiss Momma's feet even further into the dirt. It's a record with the drive to meet expectations sewn into its fiber. SweetKiss Momma draw from several eras of Southern rock, from the heavy blues of the title track to the Wilco-ish lilt of "Same Old Stories" and "Laura Rose," the arena-sized stomps and handclaps of "For the Last Time" to the silly organ-led jaunt of "Birthday Cake." It smacks of SweetKiss Momma throwing everything they've got at the album that could be their big break.
Though a proper release date hasn't been decided, A Reckoning is currently available at SweetKiss Momma's live shows - which is where you oughta be, anyway. A band with this kind of kismet, this humility, this comfort in their own skin, is bound to go places in their own time.