Saturday, May 12, 2018

Tami Neilson: “Sassafrass!” (2018) CD Review

Growing up, Tami Neilson was part of her family’s band in Canada. Now she is based in New Zealand, where she has won awards for her music and songwriting, particularly in the country realm. Her new album, Sassafrass!, certainly not strictly a country record, features all original material. She dips into a lot of different musical realms here, and seems perfectly at home in them all. Actually, hell, she seems to rule them all, like she has sent out multiple versions of herself to take over all known areas, and then created some new areas, which she will also rule over. Here you will find soul, country, and blues, much of it making use of a classic sound, delivered with power, energy and attitude. And joy.  The band is made up of Tami Neilson on vocals and acoustic guitar, Neil Watson on guitar and pedal steel, Brett Adams on guitar, Mike Hall on bass, and Joe McCallum on drums and percussion. There are also several guest musicians and backing vocalists.

The album opens with “Stay Outta My Business,” a ridiculously fun tune with horns and with backing vocals echoing her, something of an early rock and roll vibe. “Damned if I do and damned if I don’t/You want me play that game, but I won’t/You’re only happy causing trouble and strife/But I’m too busy with my damn-good-without-you-in-it life.” The way she delivers that last line, actually the last word of that line, her voice rising up to the stratosphere, is fantastic. And that leads to an excellent instrumental section, a full sound, with a surplus of energy. That’s followed by more fun with “Bananas,” a goofy, delightful tune. Peal a banana, start a conga line, and enjoy life. But, as seemingly silly as this song might be, it actually has an important message about equality. “It will leave you reeling when you hit the glass ceiling/Watch your pretty head, take my advice/Best think twice, just play nice/Keep those big ambitions of yours on ice. Then toward the end it has a seriously cool section. “You want equal pay/Just for working all night and day.” These first two tracks were co-written with her brother, Jay Neilson.

Things then get bluesy with “Diamond Ring,” a glorious and somewhat raw number, complete with backing vocals. “Don’t need the pain that loving brings/Don’t want no other man’s diamond ring.” “Devil In A Dress” sounds like it could play during a James Bond film’s opening credits, like she’s singing of a Bond girl, maybe the villain. “Heart of innocence or villainy/One-dimensional fantasy/Here to curse or bless/A damsel in distress/Or just a devil in a dress.” I love when she raises her voice. This song also features some cool work on guitar and some wonderful touches on horns. “One Thought Of You” has a classic sound, like one of those delicious slow tunes from the earlier days of country. It’s a pretty and earnest love song, and Tami Neilson delivers another excellent vocal performance. “With just one thought of you/To get me through the night/I dream the sweetest dreams/But it seems all those dreams/End with daylight." This one was co-written by her father, Ron Neilson.

“Smoking Gun” is a mean, bluesy number dominated by percussion, and with some strong lyrics about sexual harassment in Los Angeles. Check out these lines: “Well, there’s a predator creepin’ in the pool/The king of the casting couch where he rules/Golden boy has started to crack/Squirming like a worm under our magnifying glass.” This one also features more good work by the backing vocalists. That’s followed by “Kitty Cat,” a seemingly silly, fun rockabilly number that – perhaps no surprise by now – contains a message. “She might wave her tail in your direction/Show you a little bit of love and affection/Lick and purr and give you a scratch/But that don’t mean that she’s your kitty cat.” Then “Manitoba Sunrise At Motel 6” is a kind of beautiful mellow country tune. “Oh lonesome prairie wind/Won’t you blow me home again/To the love I left behind/That never leaves my mind/Oh, my head is dark and my heart feels sick/A Manitoba sunrise at another Motel 6.” The CD ends with another mellow, thoughtful and engaging number, “Good Man.” “You don’t see me/Sometimes you don’t see me/The way I wish you would.”

CD Track List
  1. Stay Outta My Business
  2. Bananas
  3. Diamond Ring
  4. A Woman’s Pain
  5. Devil In A Dress
  6. One Thought Of You
  7. Miss Jones
  8. Smoking Gun
  9. Kitty Cat
  10. Manitoba Sunrise At Motel 6
  11. Good Man 
Sassafrass! is scheduled to be released on CD on June 1, 2018. By the way, apparently there is also a limited vinyl pressing, on green vinyl. I love colored vinyl, so I might have to pick up another copy of this album.

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