Norman's Mama Sweet is back making sweet, sweet music 

click to enlarge DEVON RAY STRICKLAND
  • Devon Ray Strickland

There has been no shortage of factors that have drawn Mama Sweet apart over the years. There have been moves across the country, new careers, new families, new interests, new projects. The members’ lives look entirely different than they did when the came together to form Mama Sweet in 2001, but that doesn’t matter.

There’s a gravity that brought them together in the first place, and that gravity never lets them drift too far apart, even as that tenuous tether was tested more than ever in five mostly quiet years that followed their 2009 live album, Now. Here. This. On the edge of fading quietly into the night, the five-piece returned with 21 echo, a new album that is either an indomitable spirit or a blissful sense of ignorance … or maybe a bit of both.

“In my mind, maybe I live in denial and not in reality,” songwriter and lead singer Aron Holt said. “I don’t ever want to feel like we need to reunite, that we ever broke up. We just move at our own pace.”

That has always been the case for the Oklahoma-bred band. In its 13 years as a group, it only has one proper studio album to its name — 2008’s Welcome to the Well — along with Now. Here. This., which showcases material from their unofficial releases 13 Tunes from Texas and Mama Mia from the band’s earliest days. Call it slow or call it deliberate, but it’s the only mode Mama Sweet has ever known.

“Music was never something we wanted to force or consider rushing,” Holt said. “There’s that time to go back into hibernation for a while, like burning the fields down before the next crop.”

The eclectic rockers tried to skip that part once. It didn’t go well.

Uncharacteristically, Mama Sweet took some half-baked songs into an Austin studio they had won free time in back in 2009, and it was like pulling teeth, only exacerbated by strained friendships and exhaustion. By 2011, the band was, for all intents and purposes, “no longer existent.”

Credit keyboardist Daniel Walker for stoking that fire that had nearly burned out, reinvigorating Holt and, soon after, the rest of the Mama Sweet crew — guitarist Alan Orebaugh, bassist Boyd Littell and drummer Giovanni Carnuccio III — finally booking studio time to record 21 echo in July.

“We felt that there were some songs on there that would be an injustice if they weren’t recorded,” Holt said. “This album was in us, and we knew we’d eventually make it.”

The songs — constructed with Mama Sweet’s signature blend of rock, country, alternative, psychedelia and soul — come from as late as 1998 and as recently as 2011. But all were given new life at Studio Litho, the iconic Seattle spot that has given birth to albums from the likes of Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and Soundgarden.

“It’s like playing in fantasy camp,” Holt said. “You are walking down the halls your musical heroes did, step into the sound booths where they made some of their best records. It was special.”

Motherly love

Those weeks spent in Seattle were a rebirth of sorts. Holt even penned a song as the rest of the band unpacked after the flight up there.

But it was more about renewal than reinvention, the same subject matter (“There’s songs about partying, and there’s songs about mood disorders.”), the same influences and the same work ethic, but with energy and creative excitement that usually eludes bands that have hung around that long.

As vital as that excitement is for the band, it’s twofold for the fans. So often, after more than 10 years together, it becomes more about nostalgia than a genuine desire for something new. But that was answered well before the release of the album or even the recording of it.

The band netted its Kickstarter goal of $17,000 in less than three weeks, confirming that Mama Sweet fans wanted the return as much as its members did.

“This baby is still going,” Holt said. “It’s not dead. It doesn’t matter if we put out a record every five years; we’ll always stick around.”

Even on the eve of 21 echo’s release shows at The Blue Door and The Deli this week, the Sooner State mainstays have enough material for another album with plans to make it one day.

But the band isn’t looking that far ahead. Things rarely go according to plan for Mama Sweet, so what’s the point in making one? Where the band is on its long, winding road is anyone’s guess, and even if they couldn’t point out the final destination on a map, they do know that they haven’t reached it. Not yet.

“You can’t be afraid to say you don’t know. A lot of the times we’ve tried to predict what Mama Sweet would do, it’s done otherwise. It’s a horse I don’t like to kick too hard, for fear of what might happen,” Holt said. “What I will say is that from moment one, out of the five different corners of the earth these guys had come from, it was like spokes on a wheel, immediately moving to the same thing. Right now, that’s forward.”

Print headline: Sweet home, No matter how long it took to get there, Norman heroes Mama Sweet are back where they want to be: making music.

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Joshua Boydston

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