If you’ve ever been to a Sassparilla show, you know what it means to party. A local favorite, Portland’s Sassparilla is known to blow the roof off Sam Bond’s with high-energy, harmonica blowin’, banjo pickin’, washboard slappin’, a-few-more-beers-and-the-room-is-spinnin’ junkyard blues. But it seems that there’s a party Sassparilla isn’t getting invited to — it’s called “The Big Time.” And with their new release Magpie, they’re banging on the door saying, “We cleaned up real nice. We spit-shined our shoes. Now let us in!”
“I wrote the tunes more for myself this time than in other cases,” says Sassparilla frontman Kevin Blackwell, explaining that inspiration for Magpie came from places like ’70s pop Pandora stations. “There was no reason to not write a record that sounded like nine different bands.” Magpie does sound like nine different bands, and none of them sound much like Sassparilla. Overall, the group has traded in its insurgent blues attack for happy, George Harrison-esque guitar on “Threadbare” and poppy bouncing keyboards on “Mary Celeste.” These are two of the album’s strongest tracks, but will no doubt make die-hard Sassparilla fans take notice of the new direction.
Don’t let Sassparilla using terms like “growing up musically” scare you. There’s plenty for old-time fans to learn to love on Magpie. “Two Black Hearts” recalls the blues-rock of the Black Keys, Ross McDonald’s harmonica remains front and center, and Blackwell’s lyrics still tell bluesy tales of the downtrodden and brokenhearted. In the song “Star,” Blackwell sings, “Just because they like it doesn’t mean it’s any good.” You can’t help but feel he’s aiming that at those who might second-guess Sassparilla’s new direction. I think the crowd at Sam Bond’s will be the final judge, and I hope that Magpie gets Sassparilla just where they’re trying to go.
Sassparilla plays with Lone Madrone 9:30 pm Friday, Sept. 21, at Sam Bond’s Garage; $5. 21+.