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Feature Story: Canada's alt-country heroes, The Sadies, show their versatility on their new LP

Choosing to record a portion of their latest album, New Seasons, in Spain had unexpected consequences for The Sadies, Canada’s alt.-country space cowboys.

Choosing to record a portion of their latest album, New Seasons, in Spain had unexpected consequences for The Sadies, Canada’s alt.-country space cowboys.

Originally, Dallas Good wrote “The First Inquisition (Part 4)” as a down-home, bluegrass picker, but it wasn’t to be.

“If we’d recorded it in Toronto [where one half of the LP was recorded], it would have been, but in Spain, there was no banjo or mandolin, and that would have ideal,” explains Dallas. “I pictured three-part harmony bluegrass and all that stuff, but sometimes, it all falls far from your hopes and intentions.”

Without access to bluegrass-style instrumentation, The Sadies changed course on the fly, turning “The First Inquisition (Part 4)” into a vibrating, feral garage-rock howl that’s more Iggy Pop and The Stooges or Gun Club than Flatt & Scruggs. How’s that for versatility.

Quick-change artists that they are, the Sadies often find themselves being summoned to guest star on albums by kindred spirits such as the rip-roaring rockabilly duo Heavy Trash, Neko Case — they co-wrote songs for her last album, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, and served as her live band on tour — and the Mekons’ Jon Langford. It’s not surprising, then, that they would attract top-tier talent to help them out with their own recordings.

For New Seasons, Gary Louris, formerly of The Jayhawks, was recruited to co-produce and help record the album. Stylistically, New Seasons doesn’t stray too much from past efforts, such as 2005’s Favourite Colours — an album hailed by critics. Typical of a Sadies release, New Seasons seamlessly stitches together traditional country-and-western fare with punk, psychedelia and ‘60s country-rock — think Gram Parsons or Sweetheart Of The Rodeo-era Byrds — in a sonic patchwork that has no loose threads.

What’s different this time around are the dreamy vocal harmonies of the two Good brothers. Louris was instrumental in drawing them out of Dallas and Travis.

“Gary Louris is an awfully good singer, so he would steer us in the direction of a better vocal take,” says Travis. “That was part of the reason that we thought we should work with Gary, because he’s such a good singer, and he did push us harder with vocal takes than we ever have before. When you’re self-producing [an album], it’s hard to push yourself too hard, because then you just feel neurotic.”

Louris drove them hard, but ultimately, he and The Sadies — a band that also includes drummer Mike Belitsky and upright bassist Sean Dean — were always on the same page, as Dallas calls him an “integral” figure in the making of New Seasons.

“He wouldn’t let us sleep or eat until we sang like sparrows, which isn’t easy for chain smokers,” says Dallas, with a laugh.

Nicotine, along with a glassful of hard liquor, would be the ideal complement for the wide-screen country-rock of “Anna Leigh,” “The Trial” and “My Heart Of Wood,” a trio of noir-ish forays into the dark side of Americana that comprise the heart of New Seasons. Though similar in style, they weren’t intended to be strung together as some kind of suite.

“Two of the three said songs were co-written by a very dear friend of mine, who I’ve made a lot of records with, named Rick White,” says Dallas. “So, there’s bound to be similarities there. But, that said, the record is a collection of singles. But, our lives are as shallow now as when we started making records. They appear more cinematic, but it’s the same movie.”

Off screen, The Sadies’ story begins in To