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  • Jonathan Widran

DW3, "Sweet Baby"

Pushing through both professional and personal setbacks they experienced during the pandemic, the hard working, constantly gigging and endlessly creative SoCal vocal trio DW3 is returning stronger than ever with a batch of new festival gigs, their regular two weekly shows at Spaghettini in Seal Beach and – nearly two and a half years since the early 2020 drop of their self-titled, self-produced album – a return to making their pop/jazz/R&B magic in the studio with a dreamy, tenderly soulful and uplifting twist on the classic Stanley Clarke/George Duke song “Sweet Baby.”

There are several powerful reasons why a reworking of this beautiful early 80s R&B hit is the perfect comeback tune for brothers Eric and Billy Mondragon and close family friend Damon Reel, who have been fashioning their infectious harmonic soul together over thousands of gigs since 2003. First, it was an opportunity to reconnect in the studio with Paul Brown, who helmed their 2013 album On the Floor and the track “I Can’t Tell You Why” on their 2015 follow-up Vintage Truth. Brown was already working on a fresh urban jazz twist of the song when DW3 came into the picture.

The trio nailed their vocal in one day, a session which Eric says “came together so easily it was like magic.” While Brown produced and mixed, the incredible, subtle and sensual guitar, drums and bass were all played by Woodward Avenue labelmate Shane “Terry-O” Theriot, with Bill Steinway’s old school keyboard work immediately inviting us back into Duke’s soaring melodic genius. Theriot also fashioned this whimsical new arrangement.

Another key reason “Sweet Baby” is a perfect fit is that way back in 2008, DW3 – which has been on countless cruises (Smooth Jazz, Dave Koz, 80’s, Star Trek) provided the backing vocals for Duke during one of his performances aboard the Smooth Jazz Cruise in 2008. So, as Eric muses, “the song was already embedded in us.” And finally, for all the brilliance DW3 showcased as songwriters and producers on their last album – most notably on “California Love,” which appeared in a season 5 episode of the Netflix series “Lucifer” – the band’s longtime trademark is taking classic pop, rock, R&B and jazz gems we all love and “DW3-ing” them in their own trademark smooth yet funky style.

DW3 does their thing beautifully on “Sweet Baby,” putting their silky, sparkling and ultra-cool vocals over Brown, Theriot and Steinway’s sensuous old school, easy grooving vibe in a unique way. We get triple emotional impact on the verses, with Billy taking the lead on the first, and Damon and Eric splitting the lines on the second. As with the original, it’s Duke’s killer hook where the trio really delivers, combining in harmonic grace and soaring as they sing “Oh, it’s you, Sweet Baby…”

Their vocal textures are so charming and engaging that, unlike the original which has a lengthy instrumental outro, DW3 feels free to sing their hearts out all the way to the end, with some lush improvisational vocal lines emphasizing and renewing the spirit of those lovely words we’ve heard so many times. Needless to say, it’s great to have DW3 back!


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