The cover of The Sadies’ new album is a powerful image of the northern lights made by photographer David Kilabuk in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, a sight few of us will ever get to behold with our own eyes. Yet, the awe-inspiring natural beauty and mystery captured in the photo are an ideal reflection of the music contained within. No further embellishment seems necessary.
That’s been the essence of The Sadies’ story ever since the quartet comprised of singer/guitarists Dallas and Travis Good, bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky first exploded onto the North American scene 20 years ago. Back then there was still something called “alt-country,” a catchall for artists striving to carry on traditions with punk rock attitude. The Sadies certainly fit that description, but the breadth of their skills and musical knowledge was unparalleled since a group of fellow Torontonians left Ronnie Hawkins in the mid-‘60s to take a job backing Bob Dylan.
As the aurora borealis shifted with each album The Sadies made, the overall picture took on more defined colours. On top of that was the incredible list of collaborations—Neko Case, R&B legend Andre Williams, The Mekons’ Jon Langford, Jon Spencer, Robyn Hitchcock, John Doe, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Gord Downie, Neil Young for fuck’s sake!—each one pushing The Sadies’ own sound into new, unmapped territory. Eventually, more time was taken in between albums as focus shifted to their original songwriting, and what was once the best live band in Canada became the best band in Canada, period.
Is it fair then to call Northern Passages their masterpiece? Yes, at least until the next album comes along. With “Riverview Fog” setting a haunting tone off the top, the sense of time collapsing is palpable. The psych-folk touches are no mere homage; this is the sound of our inscrutable world, and how we manage to survive in it. The song began as a letter to their friend Rick White, whose contributions, both musical and visual, have played a huge role in The Sadies’ story. Although White wasn’t involved with Northern Passages, embedded within “Riverview Fog” is hope that White will return to the fold.
Conversely, other friendships are on display, specifically the track “It’s Easy (Like Walking),” sung by Kurt Vile who became a convert after touring in support of The Sadies years ago. Without a second thought, he laid down his vocal part in the midst of his own grueling tour schedule. It’s one of the album’s standouts to be sure, but resides in the shadow of Northern Passage’s centrepiece, “The Elements Song.” Perhaps never before has everything The Sadies do best been harnessed in the span of five minutes. And perhaps fittingly, it was the starting point for Northern Passages when the band convened at the home of Dallas and Travis’ parents north of Toronto to record throughout the winter of 2015, with Dallas once again handling production duties.
“That was the first song I wrote for this album, and it was completely an extension of our last record, Internal Sounds,” Dallas Good says. “It took the longest to write, and took the longest to record, so in a way it gave the record this daunting feeling.”
However, Dallas is quick to note that Northern Passages contains several humourous moments, albeit of the extremely dark variety he’s known for. One is the album’s most overt “country” song, “God Bless The Infidels,” a scathing takedown of religious hypocrisy perfectly suited to our current social climate. Although Dallas has never proclaimed any political allegiances in his work, there are times like now when reality checks such as this are absolutely necessary.
As Dallas has found his songwriting voice over the last several albums, so too has Travis on Northern Passages. That’s evident on the tracks “Through Strange Eyes,” “Questions I Never Asked” and “As Above, So Below,” some of Travis’ strongest material yet. “I always want to hear Travis perform songs that show what he’s capable of,” Dallas says. “He did that all over this record, especially the three songs on which he sings lead.”
The overall group mentality of huddling in a basement for several months, Big Pink-style, actually led to some parallels to the 2004 project The Unintended with Rick White and Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor. Northern Passages’ hazy instrumental “The Noise Museum” would have fit nicely alongside that record’s deep woods psychedelia, while closing track “The Good Years” (containing among other killer lines, “He haunted her before he was dead”), is a prime example of the “northern gothic” approach The Sadies have all but patented.
Despite the eclecticism at the heart of The Sadies’ sound, Northern Passages’ main strength is a cohesiveness that gives it a more consistent feel overall. Dallas credits this in part to recording with no time restrictions or distractions, and, significantly, by returning to the same space where he and Travis first started playing in bands. “We had nothing to lose by trying to make the record down there, and we weren’t sure if anything good would come out of it,” he says. “But removing any unfamiliar elements allowed us to focus a lot better. My parents’ basement turned out to be my favourite studio yet.”
Given all of their associations and tireless touring regimen, it can seem at times as if The Sadies are everywhere, all the time. Yet, they are a band that fans cling to like a closely guarded secret, with each new release fulfilling the promise to reach further, for all of our sakes, not just their own. With Northern Passages, the time has come to make room for more on this wild acid-folk-country-punk trip, and trust me, we’ll be better off because of it.
Nocona’s roots are in Texas – songwriter, lead guitarist, and singer Chris Isom’s family are 6th generation Texans – but the band’s sun and stars rise over California. Nocona is a rock band with history who draw their roots from Country, Folk, Punk, Rock and psychedelia. They are known for taking the psychedelia of the 13th Floor Elevators and mashing it up with the Bakersfield sound—Roky and Buck; Love and the Burrito Brothers. At times the music finds the petulance and power of The Ramones and The Kinks, but it is tradition that comes out on stage every time Chris and Adrienne Isom bring their traveling circus to town.
Chris Isom spent his formative years in New York, where as a young punk he discovered artistic expression in a guitar. In Manhattan in the 2000’s, there was art and music around every corner. Chris found his calling, playing in Anti-folk bands, Art Punk bands, and every other thing he could find. He did time in Mooney Suzuki as a guitarist, and played and toured with Adam Green.
However, Chris’s family is Texas. Take from that what you will, but a hell of a lot of good music has come from boys and girls born and raised in that Republic. Chris’s mom tutored Buddy Holly’s bass player, Joe B Mauldin in High School. Both parents and grandparents hail from Lubbock. That Lubbock sound is not something you can shake from your bones, and a strong dose of Buddy and bluegrass steeped in modern rock comes through on NOCONA’s first album.
NOCONA is an old Tejas word. “Nocona is the area in Texas where my Mom’s family originally lived,” Chris explains. “It comes from the Comanche word for Wanderers or Travelers.”
Adrienne Cohen is from Los Angeles, born and raised an artist, and has always been a visual artist as well as a photographer – still a vocation today. But art is art and music called to her. While visiting a friend in New York, she met Chris, and he gave her a Gibson.
Chris and Adrienne joined a band, and the family was started. “We went to Nocona for Thanksgiving,” she says, “and there were all these cousins playing guitar. The songs were pouring out of them – Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, John Prine, Patsy Cline and a million songs I had never heard.” And that was it. It was on to California to bring it all together.
Chris and Adrienne played in an eclectic roots and folk and punk band in LA which ended its run in 2012 at Bonnaroo. Afterwards, Chris, Adrienne, began to cast about for a new plan.
They brought in longtime friend Justin Smith to play drums. He had played in bands his whole life – Old Californio, The Seeds – but when he joined with Chris and Adrienne, he had found his family. The mix of all these eclectic tastes – art and twang and punk and family – comes together to bring a distinct style that takes risks and delivers a sound unlike any other artist today. Their free spirit is evident in up-tempo tunes and infectious hooks with honesty, written by Chris Isom. And where did it come from? Where did he find all these songs? Everywhere. “This is the first music I’ve written that’s free from a lot of the artistic hang ups that have stifled my writing in the past,” says Chris. “I’ve let go and just accepted the process, and sometimes that means exploring melodies and lyrics that used to be too personal for me to share with anyone. Other times, it means just shutting up and rocking out,” says Chris. The sound became complete and fully flushed out when Elan Glasser joined the band on harmonica, Dan Wistron on Pedal Steel, and all the parts have become one cohesive sound that fulfills the promise of all its individual assets.
NOCONA returned to Bonnaroo in 2013 after touring much of the year; they received critical reviews after playing Fillmore West and SF’s Independent opening up for Brokedown in Bakersfield, ALO & The Mother Hips. In the short time being together Nocona has played some of the biggest festivals in America – Outside Lands, Bonnaroo, and Stagecoach – and in 2018 have shared bills with June Carter Cash & John Jorgenson, Rosie Flores, Ladies Gun Club with Aaron Lee Tasjan and Brennen Leigh.
“Brimstone,” a Nocona video directed by Jon Nowak, an award winning writer-director (Man & Machine; Sweet Corn) was featured on CBS News, and their video for “Beverly Hills Blues,” directed by David Schlussel, premiered on American Songwriter. In the past year four Nocona songs have been featured on television shows such as “Bones” and “Criminal Minds.”
“Toothless Junky” is a new video directed by Chris Strother at Zorthian Ranch in Altadena premiered July 2016. The video was shot amidst the famed props and large industrial sculptures and structures of the ranch and even features guest appearances by “Rama” the Lama.
Celebrating the release of their second full length album Long Gone Song on October 2nd, 2015, NOCONA has brought their irreverent, high energy stage show across the U.S and Canada.
They are currently working on their 3rd album due out in 2019.