Blues / Country
Produced by: Fluff & Gravy Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I first was introduced to the music of Sassparilla, I was impressed. Consisting of Kevin Blackwell on vocals, cigar box guitar and national resonator guitar, Ross "Dagger" Macdonald on harmonica) and his son, Colin "Sweet Pea" Macdonald, on washtub bass and bass, Naima on vocals, accordion and washboard, Justin Burkhart on drums and Ben Stewart on bass, Sassparilla made its debut in 2007 with the country/blues album Debilitated Constitution. Since then, the band has recorded four more albums: Rumpus, Ramshackle, The Darndest Thing (my introduction to the band) and its most recent release, Magpie.
According to Kevin Blackwell, there's a story behind the new album's name: "I read somewhere that Magpies are infamous for stealing and collecting shiny things. When I was writing this record I became acutely aware of my limited attention span and propensity to move from thing to thing. I'd hear something I liked on the radio, on my iPod, or Pandora and think to myself, 'I wish my band had this sound; or, I wish I could play songs like this. Magpie was born out of wanting to be many different things at the same time. I love pop music, blues, the 70s, and dark moody music, In essence, I felt there was no reason not to be nine different bands for one record; to play all the styles of music I love."
The music of Sassparilla still has that bluesy country feel to it with a little pop mixed in. Kevin Blackwell's vocals are reminiscent of singer/songwriter Randy Newman, gruff yet affable. When Naima accompanies him on tracks, their voices balance each other out perfectly. The music is fun and contains a diverse sound from track to track.
The lyrics of each song tell a story, often containing dark undertones. Take for instance Threadbare - the song has a poppy, fun kind of feel, but listening to the lyrics, we realize that the singer has had his heart trod upon by a lover who has basically used him up and spit him out. The lowdown bluesy music of Buick perfectly describes the downtrodden feeling represented by the lyrics. The emotions are as sad as it gets in this track, with the singer sounding as if he's given up on trying to correct the mistakes of his life. Broke Down Engine's music is a bit more upbeat in sound, but the lyrics are a painful reminder of what happens when love goes sour.
I thought The Darndest Thing was a dark album, but I can honestly say that the lyrics have gotten much darker in Magpie. The music is just as enjoyable as ever, with a bit more diversity on board this time around. The singing is emotional and often pulls at the heartstrings of the listener, especially when touching upon topics they can relate to. All-in-all, another successful album for Sassparilla, a band that seems to keep getting better with age.