There is a certain class of band, the kind that have a unique sound but rarely deviate from it, and sometimes it ends up limiting their creativity and longevity. I’d place the Old 97’s in that category, as the old joke about them is that they have two songs—the fast one and the slow one—and they just gave them new titles every album. In the alt-country vein, the Sadies could very well have been placed in that compositional straitjacket, too, since their trademark sound was a kind of Morricone-influenced spaghetti western instrumental vibe.
Recent developments in their career have helped them to avoid the traps of repetition, however. From serving as a backing band for Neko Case and Andre Williams to last year’s guest star heavy double live album, they seem intent on not carving out any specific niche for themselves.
This new CD stretches the boundaries of their own music far beyond the surf-country vibes of their early work, an evolution that’s a combination of Travis and Dallas Good’s maturing songwriting and the airy production touch of former Jayhawk Gary Louris.
The stylistic swath the Goods cut this time around includes reverb-drenched country weeper, “Sunset To Dawn,” and Gram Parsons-indebted, “Never Again,” but it also harvests psychedelic pop nuggets such as the Donovan-esque, “Yours To Discover,” and, “A Simple Aspiration,” which sounds otherworldly, like a lost track from Roky Erickson and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. In a further departure, there are only two instrumental tracks included, almost as brief afterthoughts or interludes.
The times when they combine these approaches are the most musically satisfying and memorable. “Anna Leigh,” is a soft-spoken tune that recalls a Johnny Cash murder ballad. Though its subject is not nearly as dark, there is a palpable sense of foreboding brought on by the eerie guitar tones and insistent tempo, and the song’s coda arches into an orchestral, swelling bridge worthy of the Moody Blues.
“The Trial,” may contain the best lines the Goods have every uttered in, “Every time I look at it I can barely breathe, and if I’m still alive when the autumn kills the leaves, I guess I’ll be what they consider free.” That’s a passage worthy of a poet, both picturesque and evocative of emotions and memories that the listener can project upon the song. Like Son Volt’s, “Windfall,” human nature and Mother Nature collide in an allegorical and literal sense.
The Sadies may never escape the ‘Spaghetti Western Country” tag, mainly because they do it so well, but it also appears that they won’t allow it to limit what they do. With this new batch of songs they have at least proved they have a few more plots up their musical sleeves than the average batch of B-movie Westerns.