Some writers are lucky enough to find a lane in which they thrive. John Prine’s superpower was his ability to place unthinkable catastrophes and faults of the human condition on the same aw, shucks playing field as tiny, humorous miscommunications of the heart. Anthony Kiedis … well, he can scat-rap his way through a scenario where his character, “Sir Psycho Sexy,” gets pulled over by an attractive female police officer and enacts a steamy story fit for a decent porno. Dallas Good of the legendary Toronto psychedelic-Americana band The Sadies had a specific “beat,” as well. It’s just unfortunate that his strongest subject matter was the uncertainty of the afterlife and the consequences waiting for us after our time on Earth.
With Dallas’ tragic passing earlier this year from heart complications, it was unclear if the band would ever record again. Their 2017 release Northern Passages felt like a perfect culmination of decades spent on the road engaging with a form of traditional American music that was designed to be conversational, pointing towards the past, but never scared to engage with the present. When the band announced they would be releasing their follow-up Colder Streams shortly after news of Dallas’ passing broke, fans were eager to hear what may be the final recordings from this group of once-in-a-generation musicians.
For those uninitiated into the immersive world of The Sadies, an abridged primer on the band: Since birth, Dallas and his brother Travis Good had been vessels for a kind of Americana music that can only be presented with absolute authenticity. Nephews of Brian and Larry Good, of Canadian bluegrass and country royalty The Good Brothers, they were born living and breathing this kind of music, able to effortlessly pull influences from the past in their original compositions with the grace of children switching between languages in a bilingual household. Along with bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky, the band has released a rock-solid catalog over their nearly 25 years as a hardworking band of road dogs. Their music has melded country, folk, garage rock and ’60s psychedelia so seamlessly that it sometimes takes a moment to realize that these genres are coming together within a single song. The band has been a fixture in the Canadian rock community, with numerous collaborations with artists like Neko Case, John Doe of X, Jon Spencer, Kurt Vile, and the late, great Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip. With so much lore attached to this cult act, rest assured if you do not know them yet, there’s a fair chance that your favorite artist felt Dallas’ loss immensely.
Upon listening to Colder Streams, one thing is made abundantly clear as soon as the needle hits the groove: This is far and away the best the band has ever sounded on record. If there ever was a prevailing issue that has plagued The Sadies, it’s that their records have never been able to harness the electrifying interplay of their legendary live shows. That pesky rough edge has been buffed the fuck out on Colder Streams, as the production from Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry and mixing and engineering by Pietro Amato capture the band in all of their crackling live glory, with enough cavernous reverb and booming low end to make it feel like you’re watching the band after stumbling into one of their gigs in a packed bar. It’s almost alarming how this record feels both immaculate and voyeuristic at the same time, like on the fuzzed-out choruses of opener “Stop and Start” and the Travis-sung autumnal folk ballad “All The Good.” You get a perfect sense of where each instrument sits in the mix, as if you are sitting dead center in their practice space, all while feeling like it is music being conjured in a hallucinatory state.
Then there’s the songs, which are perhaps the strongest collection both Dallas and Travis have assembled since their 2010 masterpiece Darker Circles. The majority of the material here finds the band playing in their muscular, gothic mod-garage mode, with the two brothers singing in perfect, spectral harmony. Dallas’ ability to write about the fragility of life is on full display with the early standout “More Alone,” which considers how our secrets and resentments isolate us in our last moments, even if we’re surrounded by the ones we love. “In this day and age, rage has become all the rage / And we choose to behave like wolves left to starve in a cage,” they sing before concluding, “I feel more alone than when I’m alone.” Travis’ heavy tremolo melody line gives the song a timeless sense of unease that fits its theme perfectly.
The blistering rocker “Better Yet” is a reminder of the band’s ties to the punk world. Belitsky puts on a display behind the kit with Keith Moon-style drum fills, and the song’s feverish pace makes way for a fuzzed-out solo from Dallas that would make Neil Young curious about the settings on his amp, while Spencer shows up to offer his own twisted guitar manipulations on “No One’s Listening.” The song is another prime example of Dallas’ preternatural ability to weigh moral questions against the uncertainty of judgment from a higher being. The character he embodies hypnotizes an ex-lover into forgetting the scorched-earth breakup they just went through. It may seem like a favor at first, but you later learn that when the protagonist finally counts down from “three to one,” he’s really just looking to get the heat off his back for future fuckery down the road—this is high-level gaslighting from a seasoned bullshit artist. “You won’t know about the things I’ve done / You won’t see what I become / And what you don’t know / Can’t hurt you anymore,” he sings, tapping his fingers together like Montgomery Burns.
In the Dallas-penned “anti-bio” for the record, he described Colder Streams with humorous bravado as “by far, the best record that has ever been made by anyone. Ever.” Even if he was delivering this line as a not-so-serious, Muhammad Ali-style taunt to any peer who chooses to step into the ring with The Sadies, you can’t fault him for taking pride in what may go down as the band’s ultimate achievement. As the album closes with the Ennio Morricone-style instrumental “The End Credits,” you can feel the sun set on a truly original band, unknowingly saying goodbye to their dynamic leader.
Pat King is a Philadelphia-based journalist and host of the In Conversation podcast at Ears to Feed. He releases his own music with his project Labrador and is a tireless show-goer and rock doc fanatic. He recently took up long-distance running, which he will not shut up about. You can follow him at @MrPatKing.