Referred to as indie-roots, punk-Americana, and punk-roots, Portland, Oregon-based outfit Sassparilla may bend and cross genres, but the result is always electrifying, especially on their latest, The Darndest Thing.
Comprised of Kevin “Gus” Blackwell (vocals, cigar box guitar, national resonator guitar), the father and son combo of Ross “Dagger” Macdonald (harmonica) and Colin “Sweet Pea” Macdonald (washtub bass), Naima (vocals, accordian, washboard), and Justin Burkhart (drums), Sassparilla offers one of the most entertaining, sweaty live shows in the Pacific Northwest. Complete with dancing, sing-along numbers, and plenty of good times. Though it is the subtleties and folk-pop leanings of their latest, The Darndest Thing, that find this five-piece band slowing things down a bit – and growing up musically. Centered on the structure of the song and the lyrics more so than the party groove and liveliness of their earlier recordings, this record gives fans a new side of the band.
“Every record we’ve done is a little different than the record before it,” comments Blackwell, the band’s primary songwriter. “They’re all metaphors for what’s happening in my life. So, the early records were good-time roots-punk records. Then death happened, a friend passed away, and other life stuff happened. I had to face the reality that I’m an adult now. Stuff I wasn’t used to. And, so The Darndest Thing reflects that.”
Produced by The Eels’ Chet Lyster, his contributes helped ensure growth and maturity with The Darndest Thing.
“This is the first time we’ve worked with a producer,” explains Blackwell. “We did a lot of pre-production on this like we’ve never done before on previous records. We decided from the beginning to make this record the way it is. We were very thoughtful throughout the pre-production and recording process.”
Blackwell likens the growth to seeing your children grow up.
“I know people have used this metaphor before, but I feel like my songs are growing up. It’s like my songs are adults now, learning to manage money and all of that,” he says with a chuckle.
Eight songs, clocking in at thirty-five minutes, The Darndest Thing is filler-free, succinct enough to keep the listeners’ attention throughout, even for those that have never heard the band before, but meaty enough to not leave you feeling empty and cheated.
While previous records have jumped around from genre to genre, The Darndest Thing finds the songs working together, each telling a story, while the music stays consistent. It’s their first record to truly be an album, not just a collection of fun-time, entertaining live favorites to get the crowd moving.
A big departure for the band is album opener “New Love,” the poppiest song the band has ever written. A happy, up-tempo song, it instantly denotes that something different is happening with Sassparilla on this release.
“You wear two hats in a band, live shows and recorded product,” comments Blackwell. “I like the idea of making a beautiful record. Then making a show people can dance to. That, to me, is what Sassparilla is all about. I feel we accomplished that. We made a record that is strong, something my peers can respect. We made a beautiful record, not just a record that was over-the top performance wise, like we’ve done in the past.”