Blues / Country
Pasajero / Hullaballoo
Produced by: Fluff & Gravy Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I reviewed two albums by the Americana band known as Sassparilla before I received their latest musical creation, a nineteen-track double album called Pasajero Hullaballoo. Featuring frontman Kevin "Gus" 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, Naima on vocals, accordion and washboard and Justin Burkhart on drums, the band has always specialized in a bluesy/rock/folk/punk sound. But there is something different about this double album.
According to Kevin Blackwell, the band's approach to Pasajero was fairly straight forward and done in the style of their past two albums, The Darndest Thing and Magpie, in a normal studio setting. But Hullaballoo was something different entirely. Seeking a raw sound, the band recorded this section of the double album in Blackwell's attic. In addition to the raw sound and the resurrection of the washtub bass fans were asking for, Blackwell went a few steps further in creating a much different sound for Hullaballoo, "There aren’t multiple takes, there aren’t overdubs,” says Blackwell. “It’s us with our pants down. It was recorded mostly in my attic between diaper changes and arguments; a couple borrowed mics, a borrowed compressor, and the simplistic genius of Apple’s Logic. I named the records separately because they are in fact different entities. On Pasajero I enlisted the talent of a lot of our friends in addition to Sassparilla to augment the sound or achieve what I was going for. Hullabaloo is only the five members of Sassparilla."
The albums may be different from each other in style, but they are very similar in other ways. For one thing, they are very dark and quite explicit. There is a running theme with references to God, the Devil and the Bible. Rolling Stones fans will recognize a nod toward Sympathy for the Devil (one of my favorite Stones songs) in the fifth track of Pasajero. Called It Ain't Easy, it's the exact opposite of Sympathy for the Devil, the lyrics discussing in the first person all of the times God was around (even when you may not have wanted him to be) throughout your life. As God reminds us, it ain't easy being God all the time...amidst the chorus of Woo Who (just like in the Stones song).
Another standout track can be found on Hullaballoo. Radio Child talks about the fact that you are never to old to find comfort in looking back on memories from your childhood. Blackwell's twin sons are featured on this album and I thought it was one of the most endearing songs I had ever heard from this band. According to Blackwell, "The last track on the album is just me, my guitar and the twins. By far the most important track on the record to me. Folks may say gratuitous, but I say…whatever. How many folks can say they have a song they wrote with their two-and-a-half year old sons?...The hoot is their calling for each other. Whenever they are looking for each other, they hoot. When they are happy, they hoot. When they wake up, they hoot. It’s become a panacea for me as well. I find whenever I’m stressed, tired, angry…a good hoot gets me back in line. Kids, so much more wise than we are.”
A slightly more disturbing track can also be found on the same album: Cocaine. This track is one of those catchy, hillbilly country tracks that you can't help but like despite the lyrics' message: "I drink my whiskey straight/ 'cause the cocaine make me shake." Love the blending of voices here. And the lyrics themselves for some reason remind me of George Jones. I think he would have gotten a kick out of this song.
There's a part of me that doesn't like the darkness on this two-album set, but the music is awesome and there are some really catchy tunes mixed in with some truly enjoyable lyrics. I may be offering up mixed messages in my review of Pasajero and Hullaballo, but the albums contain a mixed bag of okay, excellent and why am I listening to this. That being said, I still think the album set is worth taking a listen to.