As a kid, any time Arleigh Kincheloe dropped a piece of food on the ground, her mother had a funny saying to keep her daughter from letting it go to waste.
"She used to tell me, `Pick that up and eat it -- you've got to eat a pound of dirt before you die,' " Kincheloe recalled, laughing.
That aphorism took on deeper meaning for Kincheloe as she transitioned from living in the Catskill Mountains, where she was raised, to Brooklyn, N.Y., where she moved in 2008.
At the time, she had her share of late nights, rocky romances and false steps as she adapted to life in the bustling borough.
"Coming to Brooklyn and realizing how gritty and raw it is -- it's a little jarring," said Kincheloe, 25, during an interview last week. "But you have to embrace it."
It is that transformational experience that propels the songwriting on the latest album from Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, a nine-piece, Brooklyn-based brass band that performs at Fairfield Theatre Company's StageOne on Thursday and Friday, Jan. 24 and 25, and Mohegan Sun on Thursday, Jan. 31.
Named for mama Kincheloe's infamous adage, "Pound of Dirt" (Modern Vintage Recordings) is an 11-track blend of dirty funk, earthy blues and Southern rock performed by a fiery lead singer (Kincheloe) and a flock of versatile musicians (including Kincheloe's harmonica-playing brother, Jackie Kincheloe, and her cousin, drummer Bram Kincheloe).
While all the members of the N'awlins-style outfit shine, it is Kincheloe, with her scorching howl and uninhibited lyricism, who rules the roost.
On "Pound of Dirt," Kincheloe's rugged intensity is apparent from the get-go. "Just put a paper bag up on your head, get naked and shake it til your legs are red," she sings on opener "Make It Rain," a boast of her party popping credentials.
She can be romantic, too -- as tenuous as some of her romances seem to have been. On "Lasso," she unleashes on a boyfriend who is leading her on. ("You shine like you're a golden penny in the mud / When I lift up my boot I see you're chewing gum.") There's also plenty of liquor-happy reflections on the temptations of city living and being led astray. "Then I found my way into the big city / Always riding subway trains, I find myself in Queens / And I don't wanna be," she sings on "Another Ride."
For Kincheloe, adapting to life in Brooklyn has involved some trial and error (or, in the words of her mother, eating some dirt). But then again, those experiences have helped Kincheloe find her way after leaving the nest.
"It's all about finding my inner sparrow, harnessing the power of that character and embodying the force that I've always wanted to create," Kincheloe said of the album. "The songs on a `Pound of Dirt' have helped me become Sister Sparrow."
Scott.email@example.com; 203-964-2238; http://twitter.com/scottgarg
StageOne at the Fairfield Theatre Company, 70 Sanford St., Fairfield. Thursday and Friday, Jan. 24 and 25, 7 p.m. $26. 203-259-1036, www.fairfieldtheatre.org; Mohegan Sun, 1 Mohegan Sun Blvd., Uncasville. Thursday, Jan 31, 8 p.m. $30. 800-745-3000, www.mohegansun.com.