“Debilitated Constitution” CD
Label: Self Released
Portland Oregon (fomerly Chicago Illinoise) recording artists Sassparilla have a “lived in” sound. This music isn’t just something they put one when they hit the stage, they wear all the time like a $20 suit. And they wear it well.
The notes for Sassparilla’s newest CD, “Debilitated Constitution”, uses six terms to describe what they’re playing. All but one include the word “blues”. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise after you look through the list of the musicians that make up this talented band. You’ve got fiddle, washboards (twice), banjo, percussabass, national steel and A FULL TIME HARMONICA PLAYER. That you’re dealing with artists dedicated to early blues should come as no surprise.
And these folks are dedicated. The sound here is so vintage you’re surpised when you realize that all but two of these songs are originals. Sassparilla evoke the blues of the 20′s and 30′s so well you’d believe that these compositions had to be period, it’s a damned neat trick. Their modern vintage sound is well brewed and aged just enough. While the band’s dedication to recreating a period sound is more akin to Leon Redbone their topics of whiskey, murder, and spankings put’s them closer to Tom Wait’s territory (I think you can hear Tom’s spirit on the track “White Shoes”). The one obvious cover is a reworking of Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song” into a song that actually sounds like it COMES FROM THE MOUNTAINS, the Appalachian’s in this case.
All of this would be meaningless if Sassparilla weren’t top-shelf musicians. They’ve earned their chops playing on street corners and honky-tonks. They’re tight but there’s still room for each musician to shine. Nobody on this recording is extraneous, if one instrument were removed you’d damage the whole… you’d lose something like taking out one of the ingredients from your favorite mixed drink. It would still be potable, but it wouldn’t be the same.
I am frustrated by one thing: that I’m going to have to explain to some folks that THIS is the sound of the blues. Sassparilla is reclaiming the blues from bloated yuppies slavishly retreading Eric Clapton guitar riffs. We need a blues that is provincial and spirited not over-produced and diluted. What we need is INSURGENT BLUES. It worked in the 90s with the re-invigoration of country why not with the blues?
If I have one problem with “Debilitated Constitution” is that I heard it after seeing this amazing band live. They are so crazed, so stomping, live that the CD can’t help but seem reserved by comparision. At first I was a bit dissappointed but then I realized that this mellowing may not be a bad thing. This recording is like a fine sipping whiskey. You can put it on and savor it all the way through and just want a refill. Live Sassparilla is like home-made corn liquour. Just one hit will slam up against the wall and have you dancing with folks who’s name you don’t remember and waking up with lovers whose name you never knew.
Either way I’ll take a bottle of Sassparilla.