Stories Often Told

A rattler wriggles restlessly across the desert floor then stops, coils, flicks its tongue and emits a sinister “sssssss!” at a menacingly poised scorpion. Suddenly, down in the nearby wash (filled, strangely, with blue-green water), along comes a hard-twangin’ surfing Dick Dale, whistling the theme to a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. Hanging 10 not far behind the surfer is Ralph Stanley, attired in naught but a Speedo and Stetson, playing a mandolin. …

Well, something like that. Toronto’s Sadies, on their fourth album, cover a lot of territory. Together since ’95 and boasting, appropriately enough, diverse chops (the band has backed folks like Mekons/Waco Brothers main man Jon Langford, alt-country diva Neko Case and R&B wolfman Andre Williams), their musical aim seems to be less geared toward genre-based songs and more at conjuring moods and impressions. Mind you, there are tunes on this disc that hunker down in specific locales. The pedal steel-driven, Bakersfieldian country of “Such A Little Word,” is one example. Specific eras are also highlighted; “Oak Ridges” is pure lone-prairie, cowboy twang stuff that, with Dallas Good’s deep, resonant vocal, suggests early ’60s Johnny Cash or Marty Robbins. But the band’s real forte is in blurring the edges. Opening instrumental “Lay Down Your Arms” initially suggests “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” yet the guitar flourishes and shuddery drumming are more accurately pegged as being derived from surf music. “Of Our Land” deceptively opens on an acoustic folk/country note only to abruptly go all psychedelic-baroque (the Left Banke covering “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” anyone?), en route to firing the interstellar overdrives into the next galaxy. Taken as a whole, the Sadies’ magical mystery tour should appeal to a huge range of listeners while never sacrificing consistency of purpose.

E-mail Fred Mills at [email protected].