Since 2010, Arkansas outfit Sad Daddy has traveled down many a road--together and separately--at times focusing on their solo projects and then reuniting for a band project. The four members, Brian Martin, Joe Sundell, Rebecca Patek, and Melissa Carper, all conspired and united in the sudden spare time of 2020 to create their third album, Way Up in the Hills.
They all met up at Brian’s cabin in Greers Ferry, Arkansas, and over a couple bottles of chocolate milk and a few jugs of whiskey they collaborated, writing and arranging songs specifically for the new album. A first for Sad Daddy, they took the brand-new bones of each other’s ideas and worked on them as a band to construct and finish the songs. The collective decided on a down-home, back-to-the-country theme—a reflection on the state of the world and the desire to go back to simpler ways and self-sufficiency, goin’ way up in the hills and letting the chaos settle.
The following weekend the four met again at the cabin to record with engineer Jordan Trotter, who brought his equipment into the cabin and the band recorded 14 original tunes live and in a circle. The feeling of being at a lakeside "home" studio in the serene Arkansas woods was distilled into sound and a genuine relaxed and good time vibe purveys the recordings. Sad Daddy took the time to get innovative with sound and explored recording stomps on the cabin’s porch, hamboning, using the natural sounds of insects buzzing and bacon sizzling, mouth didgeridoo, paddy cakes, double clawhammer banjo, and more. Tunes like “Arkansas Bound,” “Charlie Pickle,” “Cold Rain,” and “Poor Man’s Son” all got the stomp treatment to varying degrees, reinforcing the down home pickin’ on the porch feel. The hamboning also kept making appearances, as if this album is about just using what they had handy for percussion. Also a first, a couple of a capella tunes made it on to this record featuring the foursome’s strong vocals and harmony singing.
Unique to Sad Daddy, all of the members sing lead and write original tunes--the convergence of influences and interpretation of feeling into sound is a stylistic blend of the very best elements of American Roots Music. From the sounds of early blues, jazz, and jug bands to early country, folk, old-time, bluegrass, soul, and funk, they combine many influences, creating an indefinable genre of their own.
Joe Sundell, on banjo and harmonica, developed his unique banjo style from studying Mississippi John Hurt’s finger picking. On the album’s jug band-style tracks, Joe brings his unmistakable “Joe bounce” ragtime jazz feel. His distinctive voice, deep yet treble-y like a combo of Willie and Hank, folksy writing and delivery reminiscent of Woody Guthrie, meshes perfectly with the stylings of the other three.
Brian Martin on guitar, kazoo, mouth horns, and harmonica also emulates Mississippi John Hurt’s style picking on guitar and seems to be in a masterful league of his own. Brian’s deep, gravelly vocal tone is reminiscent of Leon Redbone or Tom Waits and his writing of Willis Alan Ramsey and John Prine.
Melissa Carper, bringing the booming upright bass, makes sure the whole room is on the right groove. Also pulling from early country, blues and jazz (such as Jimmie Rodgers, Leadbelly, Billy Holiday) Carper has been called by Saving Country Music, “one of this generation’s greatest singers and songwriters.” Her voice has been likened to a ‘Hill-Billy Holiday’ by her peers, with a muted horn-like tone that melds with and soars above the tones of Joe and Brian’s voices.
Rebecca Patek gets rowdy on fiddle, sliding between all the styles with her effortless delivery and down-home and funky rhythms. Her distinctive voice, somewhat like an old-timey Iris Dement, and her lazy vocal phrasing are a delight for the ear to follow. She brings a strong bluegrass background to the group, with the influences of Del McCoury and Larry Sparks, and from a young age playing in the local bluegrass band in her hometown. Her songwriting style combines roots with, at times, more modern grooves, adding yet another unique piece to the Sad Daddy pie.
Sad Daddy has had various phases of hitting it hard as a band and times of focusing in on solo projects and other bands, always reuniting and fanning the Sad Daddy flame anew, jumping right back into it like seeing a good old friend again. All with solo albums, when Brian Martin (No Rider), Joe Sundell (Ramblin' Mind, Hat Thief, Incredible Fun Box), Rebecca Patek (Come Up And Meet Me), and Melissa Carper (Arkansas Bound, Daddy's Country Gold) come together, they offer their original material up to arrange 'Sad Daddy style.'
With a long and dedicated history of making their audiences happy, Sad Daddy is emerging rejuvenated with Way Up in the Hills. With a more down-home and old-timey feel than their previous albums, they all stretched themselves a bit to create a common theme and new songs together. Unique to Sad Daddy, all of the members sing lead and write original tunes--the convergence of influences and interpretation of feeling into sound is a stylistic blend of the very best elements of American Roots Music. From the sounds of early blues, jazz, and jug bands to early country, folk, old-time, bluegrass, soul, and funk, they combine many influences, creating an indefinable genre of their own.
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