he Sadies have spent the last couple years working on the rowdier side of their music. Last year's live double-album In Concert, Volume One showed the band at their finest, trying their best to knock the stage apart. The soundtrack for Tales of the Rat Fink followed shortly thereafter, focusing on the band's surf rock, and their raucous rockabilly was further developed backing Heavy Trash on this year's Going Way Out With Heavy Trash. Back in the studio doing its own new work for the first time in three years, the band forgets about this work to get back to a more subdued and textured sound on New Seasons.
This new disc brings out more of the band's Jayhawks qualities than its Link Wray leaning (and, in fact, Gary Louris adds pleasing backing vocals on more than half of the tracks as well as adding his production prowess throughout). A return to the Sadies' more typical sound only means finding steadiness in flexibility. The group synthesizes pretty much anything you could lump under a general Americana label—bluegrass, country, alt-country, folk rock—to create an idiosyncratic sound more West Coast than Nashville.
The album's high point comes on a two-song stretch in its middle. "Anna Leigh" opens with a harmonized country take on the "na na na na" from Deep Purple's "Hush" before striking out on a midtempo narrative of a lover leaving his more prescient partner. Anna Leigh's ominous vision, of course, is realized, but beautiful vocals and quick picking emphasize the hurt rather than offering relief. "The Trial" responds by building around a chosen pessimism, the honesty of defeat breeding transparency. The singer expresses his best hope—"If I'm still alive when the autumn kills the leaves / I guess I'll be what they consider free"—under a cloud. The opportunity to continue in regret and shame doesn't carry the rewards of a true life of release and the closing psychedelic tangles reveal a man blocking his own way to absolution.
New Seasons doesn't bring out the party favors, but it's not as dark as those two songs would suggest (the album cover's faded out pink and purple hues fit the music's atmosphere). The lyrics don't open more psychic space, but the music contains the song’s inherent redemption. "A Simple Aspiration" swirls its way upward, twisting for its own liberation. "The Land Between" actually displaces nostalgia with a believable comfort in mature romance; the cause for credulity not resting with any articulateness, but with the singers' singing around the beat. The "tangled into one" doesn't happen in line with the conductor's baton, but it happens just the same.
The album's final piece, "The Last Inquisition (pt. V)" makes an instrumental statement devoid of meaning except its own closure. In doing so, it forgives the 45 seconds of playfully picked misdirection that opened the disc (the fittingly-titled "Introduction"). Where we came in for a hoedown, we passed through aging meditations before arriving at an experienced claim to confident stability. New seasons to be sure.