Sassparilla: Fewer Bubbles, More Bite

by delarue

Portland, Oregon band Sassparilla’s previous album The Darnedest Thing, from late last year, mined familiar Tom Waits down-and-out territory but with a surprisingly potent guitar-fueled edge. Their latest one, Magpie, is different to the point that it practically sounds like it was made by an entirely different band (hey, you guys didn’t just pull a fast one, did you?).. If some of the songs on this one had come out fifteen years ago on a major label, they would have been produced as tepid G-Love white funk or even trip-hop. This band happens to do it with terse vintage soul and blues arrangements. It’s a cool, original touch, managing to be retro and in the moment at the same time.

The opening track is Threadbare – no, actually, it’s not, it’s a Beatlesque bounce that laments getting dumped by a girl who broke “my heart of Chinese plastic.” ??? The second track, Star, has a hip-hop lyrical vibe juxtaposed against dark banjo, slide guitar and a growling electric guitar solo. The Mary Celeste mixes Penny Lane pop with a bit of glam and a surreal torrent of lyrics that have little to do with a famous shipwreck, while Two Black Hearts works a romping late 60s Little Milton blues groove with a more rocking edge.

Buick sounds like Waits done as trip-hop, with trumpet flourishes and some unexpectedly funny lyrics despite the gloom: “She loved how he fucked on that methamphetamine.” By contrast, You Took It All sets a warm, wistful soul tune atop a swaying country beat: it could be the Jayhawks circa 1997 with a tasty horn chart in place of all the vocal harmonies. They keep the country-soul vibe going with the Memphis-tinged, laid-back Broke Down Engine, which gets unexpectedly dark and loud: it’s the most memorable moment on the album. It ends with the creepy, scampering Britfolk-flavored All the Way In and then The Man Who Howled Wolf, the hardest-rocking thing here with its lingering early 70s stoner blues-rock riffage. If smart oldschool tunesmithing is your thing, Sassparilla will quench your thirst. Their next gig is Oct 19 at the Laurelthirst Public House in Portland at 6 PM.