It’s always been difficult to pin The Sadies down. They came tearing out of Canada in the 90’s with a fine mash up of instrumental rock and alt country detouring to collaborate with soul singer Andre Williams (and eventually becoming as well known for further collaborations as their own efforts). Gradually the instrumentals took second place to harmonic vocals and their 2007 album New Seasons is generally regarded as a minor classic and with Northern Passages they’ve assembled another album that at the very least deserves to be considered on a par with New Seasons and in this writer’s consideration is a far more assured affair. While they still offer up an agglomeration of influences The Sadies transcend them as they gather together sixties psychedelic country, proto punk aggro, Paisley Underground and college rock; the parts welded into a sleek well tuned machine.
They open with the trippy psych folk of Riverview Fog channelling the Byrds circa The Notorious Byrds Brothers before barrelling into the Detroit metal ramalama of Another Season Again fuelled by snotty MC5 like arrogance. This dichotomy runs throughout the album with dips into country rock countered by all out freakouts with power chords and feedback well to the fore, at times this occurs within the one song, witness the astounding There Are No Words and the powerful The Elements Song which is a wonderful wall of sound infused with incense, peppermints and incendiary guitars. There are wide open vistas on the frantic acoustic drive that is peppered with Morricone like guitar flashes which is Through Strange Eyes while God Bless The Years is (almost) straightforward country rock with pedal steel almost tongue in cheek here (and recalling again The Byrds on Drug Store Truck Driving Man). The Good Years is a narrative that could have been penned by Paul Simon back in the days and delivered as if Simon and his buddy Art were perhaps on those pep pills so popular back then while As Above, So Below has a sixties like baroque pop groove.
There’s fuzz guitar and feedback. Melody and mayhem. Psych pop and strutting grooves. The curious amalgam of Gene Clark and The Yardbirds that is Questions I’ve Never Asked perhaps the best example of the duality on show here but overall Northern Passages is a thrilling ride and perhaps the best Sadies album so far.