Before we run away with spring, let’s rewind for a moment and catch up with a delectable recording that surfaced in early February. It came from The Sadies, one of the hippest acts out of the Great White North. Within its grooves are varying layers of country psychedelia, a sound and style the band and its sibling guitarists and 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 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 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 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 sounds like the Sadies have been soaking in inspiration from below the Canadian border. But dig past the appealing sounds, and you discover story lines of less boundary-specific unrest. A case in point is the corrupted romance at the center of “The Good Years,” a tune that, under its story line of liquor and drug-induced doom, offers a country sentiment that serves as a simple but crushing reality check: “She can’t miss a man she never knew.” 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 too, like 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.
Serving 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 1960s before arriving so gloriously in the here and now.