For some, this might seem like The Dead South’s debut album but they’ve been playing away since 2012. It was hit single In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company (with that glorious video) which introduced many of us to the delights of the Canadian alt-Bluegrass four-piece and, since then, the band have only grown in style, substance and esteem. After the breakthrough song hit over 100m views, there could be a whole new level of pressure and expectation but third album, Sugar & Joy, undoubtedly feels like their most accomplished album to date.
This new collection of 13 songs is an absolute bucketful of jubilation that nestles itself comfortably in-between stories and songs both reflective and expansive. It’s obviously an exciting time for the band because Sugar & Joy feels, very much, like an accumulation of their experience on the road and somehow it’s also laden with an equal measure of wider, celebratory scope and a more focused, intimate study of the music they’re enjoying so much.
For all the fresh, classic visual imagery of the band, who consist of Nate Hilts, Scott Pringle, Danny Kenyon and Colton Crawford, they stick to the traditional setup of cello, guitar, mandolin and banjo, working off the bluegrass heritage. This time out we hear that upbeat element paying homage to the style but also giving something fresh, also fitting effortlessly into the Americana and Alt-country scene that’s taken the UK by storm.
Opening track Act of Approach, which teams up with lead single Diamond Ring, gives the perfect introduction of what to expect, a sharp, catchy tune with all the essence of what this band are about. In fact, every track has a story to tell and a purpose in the narrative of Sugar & Joy, Blue Trash‘s music echoes the lyrics, featuring slick changes of tempo between day and night, feeling the heart of someone trying to stop them but “You can’t take away what’s in our hearts today” is their response, with fire in the belly and banjo-picking-playing at its finest.
The Dead South’s Sugar & Joy is a whole host of influence as well, Black Lung feels like a deep-double bass of a lurking Nick Cave, merging the darkness with a ridiculously catchy hum-along chorus that embeds itself in your head. If you hear it at a live gig, you’ll be in the sway of the moment and humming along before you’ve even realised.
Fat Little Killer Boy is, as the opening voice says, a song you’ll want some Whiskey with, arriving in the disguise of cleverly upbeat tune but is, in truth, a seriously dark tale of a murderous youngster continuing that subtle Cave-like venture into Murder Ballads. But this album is also about balance and amongst the dark black fun, there’s absolute genius and Broken Cowboy is one of those tracks. Imagine following a gritty, bearded old cowboy – with secrets to tell – through the dust bowl, sitting around a fire at night, drinking through ’til the stars disappear and sharing stories of his life. This is one of those songs you’ll re-visit time and again with some beautiful melodies, taking you on the journey.
Then through the Celtic-edged Snake Man, Parts 1 and 2, there’s the Presidents of the U.S.A./Bob Dylan’s Blues-esque Heaven in a Wheelbarrow, the band taking you on the road with them in Crawdaddy Served Cold, the subtly catchy Alabama People (surely a top live tune with those Black Keys-style double bass of beauty bottom line) and then we drift off into the sunset with closing tracks Spaghetti and Distance Oneself effortlessly amalgamating.
Make no mistake, Sugar & Joy is a representation of a band having a lot of fun but also banging out the tunes, with the substance to back them up. Packed full of smart motifs and heart-fuelled melodies, this is one to come back to time and again. The Dead South have found their groove and they’re enticing you to join them on the journey, with a lot of celebration and a glass (or bottle) of whiskey in hand.
The Dead South’s Sugar & Joy is released on Six Shooter Records on 11th October.
Order now on Vinyl: amzn.to/35kmOBj and on CD: amzn.to/322e2pK
They’re touring the UK in February, and across Canada and the UK, find out dates and book your tickets: www.thedeadsouth.com