Back in the late sixties â early seventies, there was a movement in music toward what Gram Parsons once referred to as âcosmic American musicâ. The idea was to fuse some of the trappings of the psychedelic with the more traditional sounds of country and western. It was a sort of âback to rootsâ moment, in way. The sadly over-hyped but vastly under-rated (at the time) Moby Grape got it under way, but it really took off with The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Parsonsâ solo work. This fusion of the trippy and the earthy was dubbed âcountry rockâ â not a terribly imaginative name, but certainly a descriptive one.
Then The Eagles came along with the other so-called âcocaine cowboysâ and fucked it up for everybody. Itâs only been recently that the genre, now often referred to as "Americana" or "alt.country" (whatever that is), has been rehabilitated, although many of the neo-country rockers are leaving out the psyche angle. Which is fine, of course. Personal choice and all that, follow your muse, etc.
And then thereâs The Sadies, god bless âem, who have proudly taken up the âcosmic American musicâ banner and run with it. The fact that theyâre Canadian just makes it all the more poignant.
What we have here is a collision between twang and fuzzbox. And just as it was in the famous chocolate/peanut butter controversy, theyâre two great tastes that taste great together. So put down that Toby Keith CD, my friend, and shake yourself. The Sadies have got the goods, and theyâre here to deliver.
To be perfectly honest (and hey, it was bound to happen sometime), the only context in which Iâd heard The Sadies previously was in their incarnation as Neko Caseâs back-up band. They do a fine job of that, providing the requisite velvet for Nekoâs diamond of a voice. Nothing too flashy, just good solid musicianship. On their own, though, they do a fair bit of shining themselves.
This album has more instrumentals than some people are gonna be comfortable with: four, to be precise. Now, for some reason, otherwise intelligent folks tend to freak out sometimes when presented with what the British so quaintly call âpop musicâ that doesnât have a vocal track. Iâve never really understood that, myself. Some tunes can covey their meaning without words. Isnât that what jazz is generally about? So why not apply the same logic to non-jazz idioms and just relax a little. All that tension canât be good for the blood pressure, right? Besides, The Sadies arenât just screwing around â all instrumental tracks are Grade A, #1 quality goods. The galloping âNorthumberland Westâ gets things rolling nicely, in what sounds to me like a nod towards Bakersfield (although, if pressed, I couldnât really pin down exactly why it hits me that way); âThe Curdled Journeyâ is not unlike something Ennio Morricone might have put together, were he in a dark and brooding frame of mind; âIcebergâ is melancholy, in a psychedelic way â not a bad trip, I hasten to add, just one that maybe makes you a little wistful, if you can imagine such a thing; and then thereâs the hellish waltz of âA Burning Snowmanâ, all reverbed guitar and crashing drums. And, yâknow, letâs hear it for heroic drummer Mike Belitsky, godammit, who does some genuinely nice work throughout. As do all The Sadies, really, but drummers always seem to get the short end of the stick. No pun intended.