I’ve often compared Red Sammy to Tom Waits, as Adam Trice’s gravelly baritone and minor-key acoustic musings drew a pretty clear line between the two of them. However, the relationship is less clear on Creeps and Cheaters: Trice moves his outfit into its own territory by incorporating swampy Southern rock (“King on the Road”) and CCR-esque country-rock (“Seeds”) alongside his ominous, minor-key acoustic tunes.
The base sound is still there: opener “Dirty Water” situates the listener in a dark, seedy bar and delivers the gravelly rasp that I’ve come to love. The walking-speed tempo, subtly dramatic electric guitar and lyrical images of the underbelly of society (“I’m the dog that roams the streets” / “dirty water dripping down”) are all square in the wheelhouse–until the end, where Trice jumps an octave, gets all ratcheted up and pushes the bounds of his voice. It serves to change the mood, and that shift is continued throughout the record.
“I Got Creepy When Lou Reed Died” continues the vocal shift by being more akin to Reed’s work in the Velvet Underground than a country-rock song. Trice’s voice shines as the arrangement frames his pipes in an unique way. The aforementioned “King on the Road” and “Seeds” turn out different vibes too, allowing Trice to get out some great punctuating yawps in the rock’n’roll style. “Hanging with Uncle Elvis on Christmas” sees another turn, going more traditionally country with a dobro guitar and a clean vocal delivery. Trice’s vocals are still recognizably his own, but this performance shows that he can give the listener a lot of different looks. It’s one of the prettiest songs he’s ever put to tape–mostly because Red Sammy songs aren’t shooting for “pretty” in the conventional sense most of the time.
And there are some of the back alley tunes that he’s come to specialize in: the ominous vibe of “Lawnchair” sounds just like it should, fitting like a coat that doesn’t quite keep out the cold. “Take a Ride” pulls out a similar vibe. The centerpiece of the record is the 6:31 of “Sometimes You Forget What’s Real,” which IC had the pleasure of premiering. The whole band sounds assured and tight, coming together to create a seamless tune that rolls along effortlessly, like a lazy river in fall. It distills all that this album is about into one track: starts off in his pensive style, but grows to a different mood with some excellent electric guitar work.
Creeps and Cheaters shirks genre barriers and instead makes excellent tunes. If you’re interested in any type of alt-country, you’ll be interested in Red Sammy’s take on things. The growth that this album shows points to great things in the future, but that shouldn’t minimize the great things now: Creeps and Cheaters is the sound of a band hitting its stride and not slowing down.
I’m all about alt-country, which is a deceptively hard genre to get right. You can’t lean too country, or too indie, or too singer/songwriter. Red Sammy walks the line between all of these with a tune that’s equal parts Tom Waits, Counting Crows, and Jayhawks.
Adam Trice’s rough vocals aren’t the only place that Waits comparisons fit: “Sometimes You Forget What’s Real” is a long, walking-speed tune that relies heavily on a world-weary mood to compel listeners’ ears. There’s a genial, earnest feel to the guitar that calls up August and Everything After-era Counting Crows, while the weeping electric guitar gives the tune a big ‘ol “alt-country” stamp not too far from the Jayhawks’ work. Extra bonus: Mountain Goats-quality yawps at the end of the vocals’ contributions. The whole tune comes together so beautifully that it’s hard to believe that it’s over 6 minutes long. If you’re into old-school, loose folk/country jams or any of the previous acts, this tune will perk your ears up.
“Sometimes You Forget What’s Real” is the lead single on an upcoming album, set to drop Fall 2015.
Red Sammy vocalist and songwriter Adam Trice describes his music as “graveyard country,” and it’s not hard to see why. A Cheaper Kind of Love Song‘s country/folk has one very noticeable distinguishing feature: a gravelly, broken, Tom Waits-ian voice leading the way.
The voice is the band; other than the sung notes, the songs are very nice, unimpeachable country/folk tunes. A vintage National guitar plays the leads, but without prior knowledge of the National sound (of which I don’t have much; I discovered this tidbit in the press release) it will sound like any other steel guitar (even though it is most assuredly not). An acoustic guitar provides the rhythm, and the drums and bass fall in behind.
So, for all intents and purposes, listeners’ appreciation of Red Sammy depends on your feelings for vocalists in the Tom Waits arena. If you love a mangled instrument (as I seem to remember a writer describing Waits’ voice), you’re going to eat up Red Sammy, regardless of your genre affinity. If the phrase “permanent damage” floats ominously through your mind each time you hear Waits’ music, you will want to pass on Red Sammy.
For those taking things on a case-by-case basis, it’s less simple. You can’t count the whole album as a simple “take it or leave it” endeavor, as the band has an upbeat side and a mellow side. “Come Back Home” turns Trice’s rasp into a roar that gives the shambling tune power; “It Ain’t You (Carolina Road Anthem)” doesn’t electrify the song in the same way as the previous, but it certainly fits in authentically.
The slower work, which is most of the other six songs on the album, leans on the contrast between Trice’s low, gruff croak and the smooth, folky instrumental performances. Trice summons a surprising amount of pathos on the downtrodden “Baltimore,” making it a standout on the album. “Cactus Flower” is less empathetic, but still memorable.
A Cheaper Kind of Love Song is divisive, but a recognition that Tom Waits has been rocking his shtick for over 40 years proves that there’s an audience for sounds like these. If you’re in the market, this is an album you’ll want to pick up. Adventurous types are also recommended to check it out.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.