Canadian Blues-hard rock & reggae band Big Sugar had split up in 2004 after almost 13 years in the biz and 5 albums plus a greatest hits record out. Founder, guitarist & singer Gordie Johnson relocated to Austin, Texas and formed a gritty blues-rock band called Grady, while the other members went their separate ways. Johnson has produced many bands, worked with so many musicians and even had a stint with Saskatoon blues rock band Wide Mouth Mason, which als so him formalize the bond by becoming a permanent member playing bass for the trio! What did this all mean for Big Sugar? Was one of my fav bands done & dusted?
We first heard rumblings in late 2009 of a reunion tour. Finally in 2010 after playing a few gigs the band reunited with Johnson, harmonica and tenor saxophonist Kelly Hope, bassist Gary Lowe with new members Stephane Bodean on drums & Friendlyness on keyboards. Earlier this year the band put out their 6th studio album Revolutions Per Minute. The world’s dirtiest soul band is back. That’s what they are soul – blues, hard rock & reggae mixed soul.
What an enjoyable album this turned out to be! No weak songs at all just fun blues & hard rock with reggae added for spice. Potent stuff. From the retro feeling of Roads Ahead, a really fun loving & clap along song. We get a nice slide guitar solo, sax solo, while Friendlyness tickles the ivories. Come A Little Closer…..Now Come! is a bass driven rhythm and funky number which could be a dance floor hit if marketed properly. Sexual innuendo is not one of the band’s weaknesses and when we hear that blues harp – heaven! Track 3 is when we get a slice of reggae beat when Little Bit A All Right. This is best heard when the guitar solo is poured over the rhythm beat & then we get a rasta message from Friendlyness. Allman Brothers & Govt. Mule’s Warren Hayes lends his wah-drenched guitars to It’s All I Know. Things get a little slowed down, but in the smooth & casual way, before the song closes of in a lead guitar duel.
Smooth! Like a nice dark chocolate porter! More reggae in If I Were Heaven (Tonight) which also features the melodic Maritime fiddle of guest star Tim Chaisson. Gordie guitar sounds so great here, sublime yet strong in this romantic song. Montreal’s Shane Murphy joins the band for another reggae-esq light hearted song in Done So Much In The Dark. Dare I say it, there’s an accordion playing in that song. Work It Now! is more dancehall with some broadway influences mixing with a little Indian/Arabian bit thrown in. Un-Employed Expert sounds like it could be tailor made for a musical Hollywood movie. Actually it reminds me of some of the songs in Once More With Feeling, that Buffy musical episode. It’s got that vibe to it and an almost middle eastern style of horns playing, while still being bluesy. Counterfeit Wings (Are Some Jive Ass Wings) continues in that old style blues style of singing and overall feel while the music gallops along. I can’t think of another band that sounds this cool and strange at the same time.
There’s No Telling Me is about the stubbornness and no-nonsense attitude that the band has been long known for. Great track which feels like a midnight blues track playing in a smoky bar. True Believers is about sticking to your guns, the lyrics of a world weary traveler and who just wants to settle down with a lover now. Jay Malinowski of Bedouin Soundclash does his bit to massage the political concerns of the title track into something a little closer to lovers rock. This is just a chill out, weeds & beer kinda of song “The record may be scratched but the music still sounds sweet” indeed!And they channel Rush’s 1980 classic hit in the line “Don’t you believe in freedom of music?”. And as Friendlyness sounds his rasta lines, Bob Marley’s ghost is nodding & humming along.
In the end the 50 minutes of 12 really good songs serve us the best that the band has ever put up. They have matured and calmed down and it shows. Where’s my joint? I wanna relax and listen to this album again. Do the world a favour – throw out your rap crap, chuck out Lady Gaga and dance songs and never mind the Beiber. Gordie wants you to relax and sink in the pool.