The relationship between country music and R&B has been underrepresented in the history books, but some of the most indelible performances of the last century — say, Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay” or Elvis Presley’s reinvention of “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” — originate in that musical no-man’s-land.
Far less ambitious is this collaboration between Detroit soul man Andre Williams (aside from his own modest hits, he is a sometime sidekick to Bobby “Blue” Bland and George Clinton) and Toronto’s bloody-knuckled mavericks the Sadies. But the pairing is inspired proof that even if opposites don’t necessarily attract, they sometimes draw out the unexpected in each other.
Williams’ vocal technique is limited to a slurring, spoken grumble; he wisely selected material well-suited to that range. Harlan Howard’s “Busted” and Lefty Frizzell’s “I’m An Old Man” are given a lewd, lurid reading, and the evergreen creepshow “Psycho” is spooky and silly in all the right ways. The cumulative effect brings to mind Red Sovine recording a naughty party record.
Significantly, the sturdy musical support on Red Dirt suggests what the Sadies might yet be capable of, if liberated from the sonic yolk of Steve Albini (who produced the quartet’s debut, Precious Moments). Here, the production captures the band in a way that allows the trad-country guitar artistry of brothers Dallas and Travis Good to breathe. As such, Red Dirt allows the Sadies and Williams to explore the thrilling merger of country tradition and punk aesthetics often bandied but rarely achieved.