Saturday, January 28, 2017

FROZEN: A Burning Snowman/The Sadies

The Sadies. Some will have heard the name, fewer, possibly, the band. SMM have but one mention for them that I can find, so time to redress the balance.

I was originally going to use another song, 'The Iceberg', as seeming more authentically 'frozen' a song than the presumable lukewarm melt that would result in this choice, but the increasingly common unsmiley face of not available in your territory cropped up. And because the band are so damn prolific, I knew they would have written a slew of songs about the cold. They are from Toronto.

Built around the brothers Dallas and Travis Good, the front line on all things stringed, guitars, fiddles, steel, along with Sean Dean on bass and Mike Belitsky on drums. The line-up has been constant since their 1994 formation, their style with little overt change from a template of surf instrumental, country weepies and electric bluegrass twang. But there is always something a little extra and unexpected in the mix, setting them way above some retrograde revamp of the Byrds meet the Surfaris, though that would not be a bad label to start an acquaintance. I don't quite know how or why, but it seems to me that canadians can do better country than their southern cousins, and the Sadies have me musing likewise on their aplomb with a surfdude vibe. Maybe there are more waves to catch in Saskatchewan than we knew. Their discography alternates between band albums and another tranche of titles where they play backing band, to such diverse artists as R'n'B sleaze man, Andre Williams, to country chanteuse with edge, Neko Case, ex-X man, John Doe, to the british country-punk roots rocker, Jon Langford. (Indeed, the band consider themselves honorary members of Langford's ever evolving Mekons collective.)

I have only crossed the wild atlantic on a handful of occasions, trying always to catch a show or two when I do, surveying the listings ahead of any such trip, scanning the pot-luck of availability. In, I guess, about 2004 or 5, I had a 5 day jaunt to New York and combined 2 bucket list entries, maybe 3, in the one go. Neko Case and the Sadies were playing the Bowery Ballroom! Braving the problem that the cabdriver couldn't find it, we wandered around the somewhat barren locale, in driving rain, I recall, eventually finding a somewhat rundown looking building. Inside a grim concreted bar. I thought this maybe the room they were playing and made light of it to my then wife, who was clearly terrified. After a nervous drink, there was suddenly the opening of big doors, leading up into a fabulously kitsch old style dance hall, with an upstairs verandah spread around the 3 non stage walls. A lacklustre opening band, surely not the Sadies, I prayed, plugged in. O dear, but not for long, as after maybe 20 minutes they let the stage, and the 4 oldstyle wild western characters, much as envisaged in the album sleeve above, trooped on, Travis looking every bit Wyatt Earp's younger and even more tubercular brother. (See if you can guess which one he is!) Yee-bloody-haw, it was terrific! I was hooked as one song banged out after another, harmony vocals wailing into their beer on one song, riptide  bendy baritone  notes on the following instrumental. 40 minutes and then we got Neko. Consummate. I may have neglected my wife so struck was I by this show. I remember well the row in the taxicab back to our hotel.

Since then I have stayed more loyal to the band than to Neko, hoovering up their catalogue and keeping out an eye for other appearances. One such example is Garth Hudson's exemplary custodianship of his old band, the Band, with his 2010 release, Garth Hudson presents: A Canadian celebration of the Band. Of course, these Canucks like to stick together, so possibly no surprise that this, amongst other tracks, should have them performing not just with Garth, but with Neil Young. That wheel was indubitably on fire. (Sorry, another unsmiley from youtube for me.......)

Their last record was some few years ago and I was worried the trail had gone cold. Maybe the surf had frozen, so it was with some relief I heard this trailer for a forthcoming release, later in the year. A band album, rather than backing band album, but this song features Kurt Vile, who fits their vibe with a natural finesse:

Get some stuff.