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Team players

Sadies find inspiration in musical collaboration

The two-decade-long recording history of the Sadies is rich with collaboration. Over the years, the Toronto country-roots band has put out albums with R&B legend Andre Williams, Mekons founder Jon Langford, alt-country singer Neko Case, cowpunk forefather John Doe and Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie.

If that sometimes means the quartet’s own albums come out less frequently — its latest, February’s Northern Passages, was released four years after its previous record — it doesn’t bother singer-guitarist Dallas Good.

“Everything that we do in terms of collaboration is equally important as what we do on our own,” says Good, who shares songwriting duties in the band with his brother, singer-guitarist Travis Good (Sean Dean on bass and Mike Belitsky on drums round out the group). “We figure we’re not doing anyone any favours by rushing either project, assuming that one is ready to go when it might just not be.

“The Gord Downie record (And the Conquering Sun) took about seven years to complete and was obviously very meaningful to us. This one, I’ve been working on it for many years. We’re not the kind of band that feels we have to rush to the finish line to complete a record... We are under no obligation or pressure from anyone other than ourselves; that’s a pretty good place to be in.”

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The two-decade-long recording history of the Sadies is rich with collaboration. Over the years, the Toronto country-roots band has put out albums with R&B legend Andre Williams, Mekons founder Jon Langford, alt-country singer Neko Case, cowpunk forefather John Doe and Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie.

If that sometimes means the quartet’s own albums come out less frequently — its latest, February’s Northern Passages, was released four years after its previous record — it doesn’t bother singer-guitarist Dallas Good.

JEREMY BRUNEEL ILLUSTRATION</p><p>The Sadies — Sean Dean (from left), Dallas Good, Mike Belitsky and Travis Good — recorded their latest album in the basement of the Good family home.</p>

JEREMY BRUNEEL ILLUSTRATION

The Sadies — Sean Dean (from left), Dallas Good, Mike Belitsky and Travis Good — recorded their latest album in the basement of the Good family home.

"Everything that we do in terms of collaboration is equally important as what we do on our own," says Good, who shares songwriting duties in the band with his brother, singer-guitarist Travis Good (Sean Dean on bass and Mike Belitsky on drums round out the group). "We figure we’re not doing anyone any favours by rushing either project, assuming that one is ready to go when it might just not be.

"The Gord Downie record (And the Conquering Sun) took about seven years to complete and was obviously very meaningful to us. This one, I’ve been working on it for many years. We’re not the kind of band that feels we have to rush to the finish line to complete a record... We are under no obligation or pressure from anyone other than ourselves; that’s a pretty good place to be in."

In a way, Winnipeg might be partly to blame for the delay. When Winnipeg Folk Festival artistic director Chris Frayer put the Sadies on the same stage as British singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock to perform the Band’s Stage Fright album in 2015, he set in motion a future collaboration that would distract the band from creating new material.

"We did a couple of performances with Robyn that year where we did a record in its entirety. We did a Byrds record and a Band record, and it all started from Chris’s idea that we do it at the folk festival," Good explains. "But the thing was, it never occured to us how much frickin’ work it would be to learn those records that we already knew so well. In the process of dissecting them and actually playing them, there was no writing during that period, is what I’m trying to say.

"There’s lots of distractions and I like to blame other people for them," he says with a laugh.

When the Sadies finally settled down in earnest to record Northern Passages, they found a place with few distractions, a place that would allow them to take their time and use the full arsenal of equipment at their disposal: the basement of the Goods’ childhood home in Newmarket, Ont.

Of course, it helps that the brothers’ parents, Bruce and Margaret Good, also are performers — Bruce, his twin brother Brian and younger brother Larry are Canadian Country Music Hall-of-Famers the Good Brothers — so they weren’t as touchy as most parents would be about having a wall of amps set up in the rec room for months on end.

That’s not to say they ever actively encouraged their kids to be part of the music biz, however.

"You should totally get my dad’s one-liners about this — he’s got a million of ’em," Good says. "His favourite stock answer is, ‘We pointed at all the instruments and said: Don’t touch!’ and then we become musicians anyway. But I think that’s total BS.

"The thing they did that’s amazing was that they made it crystal-clear that trying to make a life as a musician was a fool’s game and all the obvious stuff that you’d say to a kid, but what they didn’t realize was how important the records they would buy us would be. The fact that Santa Claus would bring me Dayglo Abortion and Cramps records really shaped my later years."

Northern Passages is the second Sadies album Good has produced himself and it reveals the influence both of those early Christmas gifts and of all the years of musical collaborations. It’s a real showcase of the band’s style, which encompasses psychedelia, rowdy honky-tonk, garage rock, jangly folk, Bakersfield country, twangy surf and more. Though the playing is pristine, there’s an inevitable sense of gothic darkness that gives it an edge.

One of the album’s standout tracks is God Bless the Infidels, a traditional-sounding fiddle and steel-guitar-laced track that finds Good singing, "Don’t strike me down for singing my song / Please forgive me and don’t turn me into salt."

"There’s a totally pointed reason for writing that song: I’m so sick of singing There’s a Higher Power, amen, amen. I’ve said amen more than any preacher on the planet because of that one song," Good says of the cover that appears on the band’s 1999 Pure Diamond Gold album. "I love the Louvin Brothers, I love gospel, I love right-wing religious bluegrass, but I got to the point where I’d really like to sing a song in that genre that is not a fire-and-brimstone God-loving anthem."

jill.wilson@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @dedaumier

Read more by Jill Wilson.

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Updated on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 at 10:09 AM CDT: Updates web headline

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