critic’s pick: the sadies, ‘northern passages’

Before we run away with spring, let’s rewind for a moment so as to catch up with a delectable little recording that surfaced in early February. It comes to us from The Sadies, one of hippest acts out of the Great White North. Within its grooves are varying layers of country psychedelia, a sound the band and its sibling guitarists/singers Dallas and Travis Good have been perfecting for the past two decades. But lest you think some kind of askew musical regionalism is at work, consider the album’s title – “Northern Passages” and its cover art of the Aurora Borealis in full incandescent splendor. That’s when you know exactly where the allegiance of the Good brothers sits.

The thing is, “Northern Passages” carries with it a trait the most of the Sadies’ other nine studio albums possess – a musical lexicon of luscious contrasts. One moment it’s all hazy, plaintive country mystique (as on the album-opening “Riverview Fog”). Then as soon as you settle into a sense of reflection, the walls crash down with a pair of garage rock intrusions (“Another Season Again” and “There Are No Words”). The mood settles again as the Goods yield the floor to Kurt Vile for a guest lead vocal and co-write on “It’s Easy (Like Walking),” a tune sporting a dark hued but infectious chorus that sounds like Drive-By Truckers’ Mike Cooley in an after hours mood.

Musically, it all sounds like the Sadies have been soaking in inspiration from well below the Canadian border. But dig past the very appealing sounds and you discover storylines of less boundary-specific unrest. A case in point is the corrupted romance at the center of “The Good Years.” Under its storyline of liquor and drug-induced doom sits a country sentiment that doubles as a simple but crushing reality check (“She can’t miss a man she never knew”). Of course, the song’s musical atmosphere eschews anything remotely country – by contemporary standards, that is – for a dark, ominous shuffle. It’s the musical equivalent of a midnight drive along a deserted stretch of highway.

There are loads of other treats, as well, including the politically rooted “God Bless the Infidels,” a waltz that rips along with the cosmic country charm of the Byrds during the height of Clarence White’s electric tenure, and the brilliantly paced “Questions I’ve Never Asked,” which initially wears its country longing openly before erupting into a full psychedelic meltdown.

Servicing as an exquisite coda is the “The Noise Museum,” a instrumental rich in twang, reverb, guitar jangle and the kind of distant wordless vocalizing that suggests this ghost train roaring through Canada began somewhere in the ‘60s before arriving so gloriously in the here and now.



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