In Philadelphia music circles, singer/songwriter/guitarist Joey Sweeney is best known for two things: his participation in various local bands and his tough-minded, sometimes acerbic work as a rock critic. The Philly resident has never had a reputation for being a pushover or a softie when it comes to critiquing other musicians; some of his CD and concert reviews have been quite cutting. And because Sweeney's critiques can be biting at times, fellow critics wouldn't be inclined to cut his band, the Trouble with Sweeney, any slack. But Sweeney's attitude seems to be that if he's willing to dish it out, he's strong enough to take it, and as it turns out, the Trouble with Sweeney has received mostly favorable coverage in Philly and elsewhere.
Sweeney first made a name for himself on the Philly rock scene in the early ‘90s, when he became part of a local band called the Barnabys (whose releases included the 1992 EP Delightful Browns and the 1994 full-length album Augustus Loop, both on the spinART label). In the late ‘90s, he did a lot of writing for the Philadelphia Weekly, one of the city's two main alternative weeklies; the Weekly's biggest rival was the Philadelphia City Paper, and both publications are to Philly what the Chicago Reader is to Chi-Town and the L.A. Weekly is to Los Angeles. During the six or seven years Sweeney spent writing for the Philadelphia Weekly, he pulled few punches and ruffled his share of feathers. But if Sweeney's critiques were harsh at times, they were never the least bit dull or uninteresting, and whether one agreed or disagreed with his opinions, Sweeney never lacked strong journalistic skills. Sweeney was still freelancing for the Weekly when, in 1999, he founded the Trouble with Sweeney (whose participants have included Sweeney on vocals and rhythm guitar, John Howkins on lead guitar, Erica J. Pennella on flute, Mike Brenner on dobro and steel guitar, Brian McTear on banjo, and Erik Schmidt on drums). The rootsy indie rock outfit's name was a play on Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 film The Trouble with Harry, but some Philadelphians wondered if it was also a play on the Trouble with Spikol (a Philadelphia Weekly column in which writer Liz Spikol has often addressed her ongoing battle with mental illness). The Trouble with Sweeney's first full-length album, Dear Life, was released on the Burnt Toast label in 2001; it was followed by the EP Play Karen and Others in 2002, and the full-length album I Know You Destroy! in 2003. Because Sweeney had lambasted his share of fellow musicians in the Philadelphia Weekly, some local musicians couldn't wait to see the critic/musician be on the receiving end of some negative publicity; however, most of the reviews were generally favorable (including a five-star review in Alternative Press). Sweeney's association with the Philadelphia Weekly ended in 2003, when he began freelancing for the Philadelphia City Paper.