Sad Daddy is a band that isn’t easy to define. The band’s catalog runs through the Americana gamut from jazz and blues to jug band music. That would be enough to set the band apart. However, this is also that rare band where every member sings lead and writes songs.
For the new album Way up in the Hills, the band members came together at Brian Martin’s cabin in Greers Ferry, Arkansas. During this songwriting session, the band members worked as a collective to polish existing ideas into finished products. The result is an album that seems almost like a family band. As you listen to these songs, you can’t help but think about family members playing and enjoying each other’s company on a front porch or around a bonfire.
It’s hard not to think about Pokey Lafarge when you hear the Dixieland sounds of “Big River.” This has a tempo that is utterly easygoing. You might even say that it’s as lazy as the river it describes. The fiddle in particular plays some sustained sounds while the banjo and the upright bass propel the song at a steady rhythm. When the horn comes in at the end of the song, you might wish that you’re listening to this song on a paddleboat with your favorite beverage in your hand.
If there is an overarching theme on this album, it’s simple things. “Bacon” isn’t so much a song as it is an ode. Over a melody that includes acoustic guitar, banjo, upright bass, and fiddle, you hear the praises of bacon being sung. “Only one thing gonna wake my senses up. It’s when I hear that bacon sizzling and I smell that bacon fry.” Martin even sings about how bacon is more effective at waking him up than coffee, which probably seems unthinkable to a lot of folks. He ends the song with the declaration, “I’m gonna keep on gettin’ that bacon fix ‘til pigs learn how to fly.”
“Hangin’ them Clothes on the Line” is another song that celebrates the simple things. This is an a capella song that features only claps in addition to the vocals. This one seems like it was drawn from the tradition of bluegrass and gospel. It’s easy to imagine the band members harmonizing around one live mic, just as bluegrass bands have done forever. The fact that there is no instrumentation allows you to hear just how pretty the vocal arrangement is.
There are also a couple songs to get you moving. “Charlie Pickle” describes a character who can dance all night despite having a bum knee. Carper provides a steady rhythm on the bass while Patek plays a lively fiddle that is sure to get you moving as much as the subject of the song. Another one that will get your dancing shoes moving is “Make It Roll.” This is an uptempo gem whose melody brings Squirrel Nut Zippers to mind. The instrumental break is a bit of a free-for-all. It starts with the fiddle, then the rolling banjo comes and and the free-for-all begins. It moves from a kazoo solo to some scatting that done more as a growl, then come the horns and the harmonica. It’s a lot of fun mostly because it doesn’t observe any rules you might make in a songwriting workshop.
Way up in the Hills by Sad Daddy is a distinctly old-time album. It has tones of Dixieland, bluegrass, and even gospel. This is not only an album that recalls family bands in some remote cabin. It is an album that embeds itself in your soul with beautiful melodies and harmonies and songs that make you want to stand up and stomp your boots. Way up in the Hills will be available everywhere on January 28. Order your copy here.
Joe Sundell – banjo, harmonica
Brian Martin – guitar, kazoo, horns, harmonica
Melissa Carper – bass
Rebecca Patek – fiddle