THE SADIES Tremendous Efforts (Bloodshot/Outside) Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
there has always been more to the Sadies than a locomotive rhythm, high-pitched howls and a chunka-chunka guitar grind, but their recordings have always sold them short. The obvious spaghetti-western inspiration that once seemed like an advantageous touchstone is now a millstone, and suddenly being called "the Ramones of alt-country" sounds like a dis. It's time for a change.
So instead of returning to Chicago, the scene of their prior studio misdemeanours, the Sadies called in a Blue Rodeo favour and set up in the comfy, cozy surroundings of Greg Keelor's rural retreat on the outskirts of Toronto.
Clearly, the Sadies benefited from the venue change, as the relaxed vibe of their new Tremendous Efforts disc (out Tuesday) indicates. But more than just loosening up and easing off on the agitated attack, they're also now messing with greasy garage rock and cosmic country.
Keelor himself even joins in the fun, shouting the Elvis part on a delightfully sloppy take on the encore fave-rave Wearin' That Loved On Look. And Dallas Good's sombre closing duet with his mother, Margret, on Before I Wake strikes a perfect balance between charming and chilling. It's a trip.
"We've only ever had the two beats: there's the train thing and the surf thing," explains guitarist Travis Good. "You can only do the boom-chicka-boom stuff for two records... well, one really.
"I think we may have been guilty on the second record of trying to redo the first, only better. At least I was. But this time we just went in with what we had written, and the rest of it was done on the spot. We weren't thinking, "This instrumental has to go here,' or whatever. There was nothing contrived about it.
"Hell, we've been playing together for five years. We can't help but sound like the Sadies no matter what we do."
Tremendous Efforts is still very much a Sadies-sounding album, but some hardcore country fans may be put off by the psych-rock embellishments that appear around the edges of the Steve Albini-recorded disc. More attention has been paid to subtle mood shifts as well as the overall tone and texture. A mature Sadies? Who would've thought?
"If I remember correctly," chuckles Good, "Steve's final comment was, "I didn't think this was going to turn out to be such a classy record.'"
"We all really love messing with people's preconceptions," adds bassist Sean Dean. "Really, the whole basis of my friendship with Dallas was getting together to make challenging music.
"When we last played Chicago, I remember the shocked look on (Bloodshot co-owner) Rob Miller's face, like, "Oh, my god, what's with the tie-dye hanging behind the drummer?'
"We're definitely taking some risks, but you're supposed to go places with your music. You don't create a sound and then stagnate."*