The Sadies are a bit of an enigma. On one hand, they are one of the most revered and respected psychedelic alt-country bands on the continent; on the other hand, they repeatedly fly under the radar of public perception.
Perhaps their propensity for collaboration deflects some of the spotlight. Perhaps their reputation for authoritative instrumentals – a reputation that makes them Neko Case's favourite backing band – keeps them just a little off-kilter from centre stage. The Sadies are a band that most people know of, but that many people don't really know. But as the glue that arguably holds together the fabric of Canadian alt-country, The Sadies are a band definitely worth knowing.
Through a discography that features about one new release per year since 1998, The Sadies have honed a darkly atmospheric sound, with moody guitars that alternate between break-neck picking and beautifully twisted notes which bend into the next day. The near flawless musicianship grows consistently more assured on each recording, as the band moves seamlessly among styles, from traditional country gospel to psychedelic gloom, from hillbilly rock to Bakersfield honky-tonk, from jangly surf instrumentals to cautionary murder ballads.
The band is populated by a tight rhythm section – drummer Mike Belitsky and upright bassist Sean Dean – and by brothers Travis and Dallas Good, who provide lead vocals and sizzling guitar chops. Not surprisingly, since it's in their bloodline, The Sadies seemed poised to inherit the crown of Canadian country royalty, with Dallas and Travis being direct descendents of the ruling family. Their father Bruce Good and uncles Larry and Brian Good comprise the veteran country/bluegrass band, The Good Brothers.
From an early age, Travis and Dallas were indoctrinated into the travelling band lifestyle, often touring with their father and uncles. Along the way, they perfected a few showmanship skills. At times the brothers play as one, guitars interlocked as they reach across to play each other's fretboard, while working the strings of their own guitars. It's a party trick that wows the crowd every time and it's a testament to their musical prowess and confidence.
The Sadies' 1998 debut, Precious Moments, was recorded by Steve Albini (noted producer of albums by Pixies, Nirvana, the Stooges, Mogwai and PJ Harvey, among many others), who went on to produce the first three Sadies recordings. As an early indication of the lifetime of musical collaboration upon which The Sadies would embark, Precious Moments featured a guest appearance by Neko Case. Noted by musical tastemakers for its diverse brand of rebellious country, the rollicking guitar work for which The Sadies were to become famous raced through influences as varied as garage, surf rock, murder ballads, and western noir soundtracks.
1999's Pure Diamond Gold built further on that dark twangy guitar sound and even darker lyrics. Dallas Good's earlier work with Phono-Comb – compadres of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet – lent a layer of surf-tinged instrumentals to the murder ballads and bar room testimonials.
That same year, the Sadies released the first in what was to become a string of collaborations with a diverse who's who list of artists. It was a highly unlikely musical matchup. Together with fellow Bloodshot Records artist Andre Williams – an R&B and punk blues pioneer who was almost as famous for his addictions as he was for his gravelly voice – they released Red Dirt. In 2008, The Sadies began recording a second album with Williams, which was shelved for a protracted period while Williams battled substance abuse and legal problems. Night & Day was eventually released in 2012.
Since that first collaborative recording, The Sadies have embarked upon a near endless string of collaborations, effectively functioning as the backing band for most of North America. In 2003, they teamed up with The Mekons' Jon Langford to record Mayors of the Moon, and the following year recorded a live tour album, The Tigers Have Spoken, while backing Neko Case. They also backed up Heavy Trash (Jon Spencer and Matt Verta-Ray) on tour in support of their 2005 self-titled album, and appeared on the 2007 releases Going Way Out with Heavy Trash. A 2009 collaboration with X's John Doe resulted in a moody interpretation of classic country entitled Country Club, which charted in the top 50 country albums for the year.
With each consecutive recording through 2001's Tremendous Efforts, 2002's Stories Often Told, and 2004's Favourite Colours, The Sadies grew more authoritative in their musicianship and pushed further at the boundaries of their established sound. Despite a gradual movement away from the surf instrumentals and garage aesthetics of the early albums, and an increasing embrace of a stronger country sensibility, The Sadies sound began to inhabit real estate that merely hovered around the edge of traditional music. Each new Sadies album felt darker, more nuanced, and more elegantly experimental than the last.
A cinematic aura also lies within the music of The Sadies, one that is never far from the surface. Be it the jangling of Old West spurs evoked by deep tremolo notes or car culture surf sounds brought on by waves of twang and reverb, The Sadies paint musical pictures with their songs. So it's not surprising that they have done considerable soundtrack work, most notably on the 2006 film, Tales of the Rat Fink.
2006's live album, In Concert Volume One, saw The Sadies sharing the stage, as they are inclined to do, with numerous guests. The two disc set transcended the unruffled poise of their studio albums and celebrated the band's live reputation, that of playing as long into the night as people are willing to keep dancing. That same very busy year, the Sadies, as part of the supergroup The Unintended (featuring Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor and Rick White of Eric’s Trip/Elevator), released a split album with the Constantines, on which they covered Gordon Lightfoot songs while the Cons covered Neil Young favourites.
Official accolades starting rolling in with the release of 2007's New Seasons, which garnered a Polaris Prize nomination, as well as a shortlist spot on the JUNOs roster board. On New Seasons, The Sadies moved out of their well-established comfort zone as primarily instrumentalists, and embraced the aesthetics of dark lyrics and tight harmonies. 2010’s finely nuanced Darker Circles, awash in shadowy allegory, was immediately applauded by long-time fans and tastemakers alike. Vaguely sinister lyrics, powerful harmonies and the near perfection of the album's musicianship earned Darker Circles a coveted Polaris shortlist spot and an Exclaim! Folk and Country Year in Review award. The “Rumbleseat” music video created by Mike Roberts for The Sadies also won a JUNO Award for Video of the Year in 2012.
Since the release of Darker Circles, the Sadies have kept busy with a continuous succession of collaborations, notably a sizeable contribution to Garth Hudson's all-Canadian celebration of The Band. Next Tuesday, April 30, things will come full circle, with the release of The Good Family Album, where The Sadies join their musical kin from the Good clan. It will be a family reunion that fans of both The Sadies and The Good Brothers have long dreamed of, but never really dared to hope for.