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ALBUM REVIEW: "Yardstyle" by Big Sugar - Red Dirt Report

"Yardstyle" is the stripped-down, new album from Canadian band Big Sugar.


RUSTY'S SCORE Score: 4 Rustys/5 Rustys

ALBUM REVIEW: Big Sugar – Yardstyle (Bread and Butter Productions) 2014

Back in my days living in Michigan, I was an avid follower of Canadian rock bands. One (among many) I followed was Toronto-based Big Sugar.

Led by vocalist/guitarist Gordie Johnson and bassist Garry Lowe, Big Sugar had a hard, bluesy-rock sound with elements of reggae and jamband styles thrown in. And while I never saw them live, I always heard good things about them from my friends on the Canadian side of the border.

And at their height of their “commercial” success, Big Sugar never seemed to succumb to the trap of fitting in a certain “image.” They always remained true to themselves, which was always a plus in my book.

But after a few years (Hemi-Vision, released in 1996, had a minor hit with “Diggin’ a Hole”), I lost track of the band, and, as it turns out, they had broken up in the early 2000’s. But they reformed some years later, to critical acclaim and widespread fan approval with more reggae/rock fusion on Revolution per Minute in 2011.

I only found out about Big Sugar still being around from Red Dirt Report’s Canadian writer Lisa DelCol, who hails from Johnson’s hometown of Windsor, Ontario. It was good to be reminded of a band I had nearly forgotten about.

Amazingly, Big Sugar actually released a 13-track, new album this year called Yardstyle, a release far different but no less soulful and listenable than prior recordings.

 Deep into Big Sugar’s new release, the round-the-campfire, mellow-musical romp and impromptu jam session Yardstyle, the song that really catches my attention is a stripped-down version of “100 Cigarettes,” a song that appeared in a more fleshed-out version on 1998’s Heated.

Jamaican-born Willi Williams (he co-wrote “Armagideon Time,” covered by The Clash), who has called Toronto home for four decades, and has performed reggae and dub even longer, played a role on Yardstyle, and that aforementioned song is namechecked on “Calling All the Youth,” as is The Clash’s “Police & Thieves.” He’s more a less a member of the band now.

Williams takes full control of “Messenger Man” – effortlessly, I might add - and Johnson offers a spooky folk-blues vocal on “West Coast Hobo in a Boxcar Blues.”

You can literally hear the sounds of night insects on the acoustic-friendly recording, helping to give it that authentic and live feel. You can almost hear the crackle of the campfire, as the bong is passed around throughout Yardstyle.

And on a terrific number like “A Revolution Per Minute,” well, it’s smooth stuff, with those sax sounds and languid, reggae groove. It’s not difficult to image hearing this one on a moonlit beach. “So sweet …”

Rounding out Big Sugar are Kelly “Mr. Chill” Hoppe on harmonica, sax and melodica, Stephane “Bodean” Beaudin on drums and Friendlyness on keyboards and toasting.

Media reports have noted that as Big Sugar tours, they will be incorporating more of the acoustic side of their usually-electrified live performances on tour.

As for Bodean, well, despite it being a stripped-down acoustic album, his percussive skills come in handy.

Yardstyle is available on compact disc, vinyl and MP3. For more information go to www.bigsugar.com.

See more at: Red Dirt Report

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