On February 17 2022, Dallas Good, guitar-player and vocalist for the Canadian country/psych band, The Sadies, unexpectedly died from a coronary illness. Dallas was 48 years old. The band’s already finished album, Colder Streams was then released in July 2022. Colder Streams isn’t just another great album by the Sadies. The band has been making great albums since their first in 1998 with, Precious Moments. Colder Streams is something more than a great record; it’s the moment when the band moved beyond all that had been previously accomplished. The album chronicling, refining and questioning the very musical landscape the Sadies have created. RIP Dallas Good.
Before we take a closer look at the new Sadies album, Colder Streams, I want to share a bit of context on how I (re)discovered country music. And also to pay tribute to a man who helped me understand the music; a former neighbor with whom I never exchanged more than a passing glance. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the threads that connect.
Mr. Maurer was a big man; easily 6’6 / 275lbs. He was the kind of man who rarely spoke to anyone and always carried the look of hard work and internal struggle. He was also a huge country music fan. Everyone on the block could hear his music playing on Saturday afternoons as he attended to his yard (and drank a countless amount of Budweiser). At the time, Country was a musical genre for which I had very little sympathy or understanding. And the truth was, I thought the music was a bit of a joke. I was a denim-chad, long-haired teenager who couldn’t help but snicker at all that gushing emotional earnestness. Keep in mind, our Mr. Maurer wasn’t listening to the bro-country that is so popular today or even the big-hat sounds of Garth Brooks. Mr. Maurer was strictly old school; playing records by Johnny Cash or George Jones or Merle Haggard as the afternoons turned into the evening. At the end of the day, you could find him just sitting on the porch, surrounded by empty cans of Bud. Listening to music that seemed to take a special pleasure in dissecting every aspect human heartbreak.
Will you still love me when I am down and out / In my time of trials will you stand by me / Would you go away to another land and walk a thousand miles through the burning sand / Wipe the blood away from my dying hand / If I give my self to you – David Allan Coe / Would You Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone)
In the meantime, I were busy with a very different concept of music; experiencing my first flirtations with the metal and punk music that would captivate most of my teenage years. Falling deeply for the raw guitars and rebellious lyrics of Motörhead, The Damned and the Heartbreakers. The way I saw it, there was no common ground; country music was the antithesis of my own youthful tribulations.
I used to lie in my room and just stare / Frustrated eyes flipping pages of air / And gaze after gaze, I could see nothing there / I was just a flaw in the scheme / Of everything but nightmarish dreams / No one could stand feeling that way for long / So I, I chose to regard all the world as the wrong – Richard Hell & the Voidiods / Staring in Her Eyes
It wasn’t until my college years that I would (re)discover country music; watching Mr. Maurer‘s family dispose of his sizable record collection just days after he died; I spent a week rescuing stacks of vinyl that had been thoughtlessly discarded in the curb-side trash. Pulling out records that looked interesting or out of some sense of loyalty for the forgotten old-man. But it didn’t take long before the poetry within those records began to be revealed. There was indeed rebellion and anger lurking beneath the surface of those silly country songs; the same societal betrayal that inspired Johnny Thunder and Richard Hell was there in the voices of Johnny Cash and David Allen Coe (and countless others). The threads were always there. I just needed to listen more closely; country music has the same search for sanctuary. The same working-class anger masked behind alcohol and drug addition. And I can’t help but think of Mr. Maurer whenever I play one of his records; records that have remained in my trust after all these years. A few even rank among my favorites; Johnny Cash’s Ride This Train, Willie Nelson’s Phase and Stages or Guy Clark’s Old No. 1. The truth is, there are far more similarities between the pathologies of Mr. Maurer and myself then I care to articulate.
The Sadies‘ new album comes at a strange time. The death of guitarist/vocalist Dallas Good in February obviously hit the band hard. And it must have been a bitter/sweet experience releasing the record after his death. The weight of Good‘s passing can be felt on every note of music on the album. The Sadies have always cultivated a very direct relationship with their audience. And most fans feel a strong bond with all the members of the band. Their poignant music articulating a very real sense of a community that exists outside the parameters of the musical mainstream.
It would be tempting to call Colder Streams an album that returns the Sadies to their core assets of songwriting and adventurous playing. And perhaps on some surface level the album is a summary of their past; there certainly is a noticeable refinement of their psychedelic-country explorations. But Colder Streams goes deeper into the darker currents that run beneath the complex instrumentation. There are no reasurances of the past to be found; the music does not retreat into some fake retro-elegance of the past. There is nothing muted or calming about the flow of one track into the next. In fact, the band is quite direct in exposing the veneer of comfort and normalcy that we hear being preached by our leaders. All is not well in the kingdom. The band traveling through the same unsettled territory that seems to have engulfed every corner of the globe. On both a micro and marco level, the Sadies address the weight of events that have shattered our fragile sense of stability and hope. These are harsh and vulgar times and a normal dialogue would feel inadequate at best;
Nothing changes and nothing lasts / I’m tired of trying to forgive / Turn over the empty hour glass / And hope to forget what was said / When I search for answers / Questions are all I find / Wish I knew what I needed to do this time / I still have so much to learn / Because of the lessons I missed / I appreciate all of your concern / But I burned down every bridge – The Sadies / All the Good
There is an underlying uneasiness that runs through each song on the record. And Colder Streams will suprise many listeners with it’s directness; focusing on the realities of societal decline and the brutality of fading empires. Stop and Start begins the album with a direct, muscular punch that feels almost reassuring. But instead of false safety, the band invites the audience to join them on a rather risky venture. And the only assurance is that there will be hard times ahead; “Seven years until the hex is broken. Seven years to endure the curse. And no magic words can be spoken. Potions and prayers will make it worse“. Lyrically, the Sadies have always had a strong voice to share with their audience. But on Colder Streams the music pulls us into the atmosphere of the living, breathing song. A darkly beautiful landscape that is both irresistible and apocalyptic.
Of course, Colder Streams does contains those elements that listener’s have come to expected. The band developing on the musical traditions that they established throughout their career; the warm jangle of mid-period Byrds; the neo-psychedelia of the paisley underground; and the California country of Bakersfield. The Sadies deliver on all these elements. And they are still capable of hitting us hard with a pro-forma garage swagger that wouldn’t be out of place on an MC5 record. However, there are some noticeable musical difference on this outing; The band advancing a more ornate, detailed maturity to their sound without sacrificing their core identity. For example, on So Far for So Few, the band mixes a rich vocal harmony with a acid-jangle climax that is uniquely the Sadies. And never, not once, does the music lean into a retro or traditional sound. On Colder Streams, the band maintains the raw passion of their live show while building the complex, psychedelic interplay between their instruments. The result is an album full of fire, intensity and contrasts. Contrasts that become an important asset on the album; On Cut Up High and Dry, the band uses the rough edges of their sound to underscore a (seemingly) simple lyric of forgotten love. And then mixes that personal yearnings with the urgency of global destruction.
Love thy neighbour and your family and friends / The power and the glory forever and ever, Amen / Wait till the world’s caught fire, then try to pretend / All our sins are forgiven in the end – The Sadies / Cut up High and Dry.
On Colder Streams, The Sadies are searching; struggling to find a refuge in those cool, life-giving streams. Struggling to find the common ground. The toxicity of our sky, water and land has shaken our trust and hope in the future. And the environment is only the beginning of a long list of human calamities that are beyond our reach; the solutions only unveiling further dilemmas. Even the most basic resources of life now seem beyond our grasp. On Message to Belial, the uneasy themes are examined up close and personal. And we are given no choice but to feel the sting of heartache. The band mixing the message of damnation with the inability to connect with a lost and forgotten love. And the willingness to see everything burn in flames over the pain.
I searched through the heavens and down in the underworld
The circle is broken you’ve been away for so long
Rise! Rise! The dawn of creation / Lucifer, Lucifer, what have you done / Fall! Fall! Last chance for salvation / The end of all nations, the darkest of ages has come
One, two, three times, we’re ruined / Dantalion won’t even dare make a sound / Look to the north as we descend south and / Watch heaven from hell as it burns to the ground
Indeed there are common thread to be found, when we look closely. As the institutions around us decline and crumble, people will need the strong voice of the musicans and artists. Brave and truthful voices that aren’t afraid to challenge an increasingly dangerous ruling-class. In 1971, John Lennon wrote a simple demand for honestly in a song; with Gimme Some Truth, Lennon’s anger was directed at the powerful elites that profits from American imperialism; “I’m sick and tired of hearing things. From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics. All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth“. Lennon was specificly calling out the “hypocrites, bigots, prima donnas and White House incumbent” attempting to convince the public the War in Vietnam was “winnable”. Unfortunately, matters have only gotten worse as endless war and conflict set the planet on fire. In 2022 the Sadies have remain true to themselves and their audience. Speaking honestly even when it’s difficult and uncomfortable. At their core they are still the band from Toronto, Ontario. The musicians holding true to the principles that helped them navigate the last twenty years. The future may be uncertain for Travis Good and Sean Deanband & Mike Belitsky as they continue the journey without Dallas Good. But that is true for all of us as we seek a future in these strange and uncertain times.