Ottawa, Ontario’s the Dirty Sheep have graced stages everywhere from London, England, to the United States. With a signature sound that’s one part soulful, one part funky, one part acoustic folk and maybe one part country, you can hear that blend distinctly on their new disc, Sleep Under the Lights. There’s no denying that the band is unique; however, your enjoyment of this sort of thing will really hinge upon how much you like music that’s a little on the soft shoe side. While there’s a definite commerciality to the sounds contained within the album, you do walk away with the sense that this is an outfit that is still growing. Even though there’s an east coast (of Canada) vibe to the proceedings, what Sleep Under the Lights lacks is the kind of grit that characterizes the best music of this type. In fact, the album works best when they just strip things down to the barest essentials: the final two songs, “Can’t Quite Explain” and “City Lullaby” are stellar because they’re the most raw and, incidentally, those are the tracks where the drummer takes a coffee or cigarette break.
Still, Sleep Under the Lights is a record with character, and should appeal to those who enjoy, say, Blue Rodeo or cappuccino folk rock. There’s no denying the group’s reach into making what can often be a staid genre into something a little groovy. Sometimes the lyrics are a little cloy (there’s a reference to “verbal lingerie” on opening cut “Hazel Eyes” which may make you go … um, sure). And sometimes things can feel a little hokey. “Cops and Robbers”, which may have some traction given some recent events in the world involving police officers who seemingly overstep their bounds, seems rather reductive. However, the record is enjoyable for those who like folk music with a salable edge. The overarching sense you get with this album is that the Dirty Sheep might be a fun band to see live in a pub setting. While Sleep Under the Lights may not be the end all and be all of roots music, fans of this sort of thing should like it immensely.