With all due respect to their American cousins, our neighbors to the north often seem to show the yanks a thing or two when it comes to offering authenticity within the realms of bluegrass and beyond. Bands such as the Skydiggers, the Sadies, and Blue Rodeo revel in a rootsy sound that rivals any of international outfit that gravitates towards grassicana. It’s no surprise then to find The Death South sharing the same turf and doing it so successfully that they blur the borders, those both real and imagined.
Based in Regina, Saskatchewan, The Dead South came into being in 2012 and the band has remained a viable ensemble ever since. Having released three albums and an EP, they’ve come to be known for their edgy approach, and the notoriety they’ve acquired along the way. Some critics have referred to them as “Mumford and Sons’ evil twins,” a handle that’s not entirely inappropriate considering the darker designs that often enter into the mix.
Not surprisingly then, their new album, Sugar & Joy, finds several examples of how an ominous reference can stream to the surface — the subdued yet sinister Blue Trash, the somber and sobering Broken Cowboy and, most obviously, the doom-laden Black Lung (“Remember the night with the barroom fight/Where I killed all my best friends…”) — being among the most apparent.
It’s not exactly the feel-good vibe some bluegrass fans generally come to expect.
Nevertheless, the predominance of banjo and a freewheeling ramble suggests a sound that leans towards music of the vintage variety. Its title aside, Fat Little Killer Boy provides a reliable romp, while the kinetic pace of Blue Trash, and the sprightly pluck that drives Snake Men Pt. 2, propel the proceedings forward. For all its apparent foreboding, the band is clearly adept at steering both the drive and determination. Even so, it’s a decidedly insurgent attitude that dictates their sound and direction. That’s the factor that motivates them to push the parameters and underscore their intents.
Given the fact that tone and tenacity generally go hand in hand, suffice it to say there’s not a lot that’s especially sweet about Sugar & Joy. Nevertheless, the combination is striking and successful as well.
The Dead South have been here at World of Bluegrass all week, making all sorts of new fans with their dark and distinctive sound.