Watch how things take shape as Sassparilla’s The Darndest Thing. “New Love” walks in as a pulled back neo-swing blues carrying with it echoes of Tom Waits and Squirrel Nut Zippers (in a quieter moment). “Same Old Blues” picks up with an almost Dixieland trombone as the eclectic instrumentation circles around the blues, bluegrass, and swing. Accordion and harmonica create the lazy river feel for “Bone Colored Moon,” as if the sunnier side of a Greg Brown song painted over with some Mississippi Delta jazz hints.
“Overcoat” and its slide guitar brings back some more Tom Waits dark corners played through that Greg Brown folk and a sultry Norah Jones jazz. Banjo leads into “Confession” as the swing feel of the earlier tracks recedes into the background and lets an Appalachian blues rise up from the foggy hollers. “Fumes” works right into a finger-picking folk that starts heading out of town on the train, slowly swaying side-to-side into the pitch black Texas night.
Then you arrive at “My First Lover.” It’s a frank, adult-language kind of reminiscence of the speaker’s first girlfriend—seemingly an older, more experience woman who led him down the wrong? path. Perhaps it’s a good memory, but the language makes it seem like just rebellion and far from love as if boredom just led to experimentation. The song goes back to that time with energy and rock ‘n’ roll, but with an air of melancholy hanging over the whole thing.
“My First Lover” could easily be edited like Mumford & Sons’ “Little Lion Man” so that it could get airplay, capitalizing on the track’s blend of rock and everything from earlier in the album: blues, folk, and bluegrass. The haunting harmonica drenches the song with suffocating kudzu as the lyric says,
Lock up all your windows
Shutter all your doors
Burn bright that porch light
Because my lover’s in your town
Yes, she’s in your town
Devil’s in your town.
The album closes with “You’ve Got It Bad,” almost a return to the swing of the early tracks, which makes it an odd choice to end the album. All the other tracks seemed to point towards the combination of rock and warning on “My First Lover.”
Meanwhile, as I contemplate The Darndest Thing, I return to track 3, “Bone Colored Moon,” as the lyric delves into the spiritual and foreboding. Picturing what it might mean to get left behind by Jesus and those headed for eternal life, the song begins: “She said, ‘Where were you when the saints left town?’/ ‘I was standing on the corner with my hanging down/’neath that bone colored moon, child of God passing time/The devil don’t want much, but he surely wants he’s owed.’” There’s hunger to be a rescued child of God, lifted out of the devil’s schemes to bring us down. Follow that up with a Gospel tune, and you’ve got quite the liturgical folk punch.