The Dead South's Musicianship Shines on 'Sugar & Joy' Album: Listen a Day Early

The Dead South
Morgan Coates 

The Dead South

The Dead South return with their triumphant third studio album Sugar & Joy via Six Shooter Records, out Friday and premiering on Billboard a day ahead of its release.

The Regina, Saskatchewan-based band enlisted the help of FAME Studio-trained producer Jimmy Nutt for the versatile 14-track album. The project combines the quartet’s love of bluegrass and country as well as Spaghetti Westerns as heard on the aptly titled song “Spaghetti.”

“Our producer Jimmy was amazing to work with, he believed in the songs and had the technical and musical know-how to capture exactly what we were going for,” the band tells Billboard. “He knew exactly how to make the songs come alive.

“We’re really proud of the instrumentation on our new album. With the first two records, we were still figuring out how to fit it all together. With the help of Jimmy, we really figured out how the instruments fit together as a whole.” 

The Dead South channel traditional country and bluegrass instrumentation with their combination of cello, mandolin, guitar and banjo on each track alongside stirring four-part harmonies. Songs like the foot-stomping “Heaven in a Wheelbarrow” and driving “Crawdaddy Served Cold” hold a darker sentiment despite their upbeat feel.

“I wrote [‘Crawdaddy Served Cold’] shortly after Colton left the band, and this was a therapeutic song,” frontman Nate Hilts says. “On the album, Colton [Crawford] doesn’t play on it, this is the only song that we’ve ever done without banjo. It’s a very meaningful song, it also sounds a lot more cheerful than it really is.”

Crawford returned to the band after departing in 2015 and his influence is heard on “Act of Approach,” which he wrote years prior while learning how to play banjo. “We played around with it in the early days; it’s an instrumental banjo song. We sliced it up and used it as the intro and outro,” he says.

The song was one of two tracks written in D minor. Album closer “Distance Oneself” is the other and as celloist Danny Kenyon explains, both loop back into each other making for a cohesive release. “I love this song, it’s one of my favorite parts of the entire album. I love the instrumentals, how they set up the album and then take you out of the album as well,” adds Hilts.

The band’s musicianship shines on “Spaghetti,” which mandolin and guitar player Scott Pringle says came together early on in the recording process. And, thanks to a hurricane outside, the song’s music has a more urgent feel. “There was a hurricane approaching the States when we were recording this song,” Nutt recalls. “The room was rattling and shaking, we brought the microphones outside and set them on the cement and sat there listening to the storm, capturing those sounds.”

This song is called 'Spaghetti' because it sounds like Ennio Morricone, it has a Spaghetti Western vibe. The first line is ‘Momma made something sweet,’ and it ended up sticking as the title,” Pringle adds. “I like how this one has that even, steady pace, it doesn’t have too much of a build. Nate described it one time as 'a slow and steady prairie wind, dancing across the horizon.'”

Listen to the Canadian group’s Sugar & Joy in its entirety below.