I loves me crass ballsy bastards, I certainly does, and this ensemble is one such collective of sonsabitches who definitely often enough put the 'sass' back in Sassparilla, a fearless gaggle holding back its mouth, instruments, and opinions for no one but marvelously accomplished to carry it all off, come what may. The band has been described by some ingenious bloke at Daytrotter as "pungent, not subtle" and their audience as "people…well aware they're doing something wrong…[yet] able to withstand it all". Pure fucking genius, that description, entirely apt. In fact, front man Kevin Blackwell and the crew come off as a blend of The Replacements with a Beach Boys band that's been roughed up more than a few times yet still remembers what it started out as.
I should probably 'splain that 'crass' bit a tad more. There are two brands: ignorantly crass and strategically crass. Sassparilla resides in the latter, knowing exactly what they're doing when waxing faux rednecky (or would that be 'punknecky'?). In the promo lit, four songs even carry FCC warnings, admonitions, or so I would imagine, amounting to worries that listening to them might cause one to shed hypocrisy, fear, and Republicanism (a trifecta redundancy, by the way). Thus, one should warn Ted Nugent to avoid Sassparilla, though it'd do that goofy-ass leering bastard a world of good.
On the other hand, the boys are more than capable of aqueous mellifluity as well as rather pronounced sonic progressivity, on Dark Star sounding a bit like the old Wally ensemble, a 'country prog' group produced by Rick Wakeman, way obscure but way satisfying. Elsewhere, elements of Hookfoot, Help Youself, and even Nick Drake (catch the disc's Cool Thing) peek out. Blackwell's a talented guy and dominates on cuts like What the Devil Don't Know, a hipsway folky gitdown that John Martyn or The Carnivaleros might come up with. The difference 'twixt the twin discs of this twofer, a condition curiously not already noted by pre-release critics, is the heavy slant on blues in Hullaballoo. Both CDs are actually wide-open expositions of what the quintet's capable of, but if Through the Fence doesn't convince you that Big Kev can play a pretty goddamned mean slide in authentic blues, then you don't know shit from Shinola (waitaminnit…do they even make Shinola any more?). Then there's Ross MacDonald's staccato harp.
So, yeah, crass, clever, tuneful, chaotic, and even curiously smooth in many places, I think the comparative I'll stick with is the reference to The Replacements 'cause that's precisely where I'll be placing Passajero/Hullabaloo, right beside those hallowed older bad actors.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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