Portland, Indie-roots act, Sassparilla release video, “My First Lover”


Referred to as indie-roots, punk-Americana, and punk-roots, Portland, Oregon-based outfit Sassparilla may bend and cross genres, but the result is always electrifying, especially on their latest, The Darndest Thing.

Comprised of Kevin “Gus” Blackwell (vocals, cigar box guitar, national resonator guitar), the father and son combo of Ross “Dagger” MacDonald (harmonica) and Colin “Sweet Pea” MacDonald (washtub bass), Naima (vocals, accordion, washboard), and Justin Burkhart (drums), Sassparilla offers one of the most entertaining, sweat-soaked live shows in the Pacific Northwest; complete with dancing, sing-along numbers, and plenty of good times.  Despite their reputation for rollicking, fast-paced live sets, it is the subtleties and folk-pop leanings of their latest, The Darndest Thing, that find this five-piece band slowing things down a bit; and growing up musically.  Centered on the structure of the song and the lyrics more so than the party groove and liveliness of their earlier recordings, this record gives fans a new side of the band.

“Every record we’ve done is a little different than the record before it,” comments Blackwell, the band’s primary songwriter.  “They’re all metaphors for what’s happening in my life.  So, the early records were good-time roots-punk records.  Then death happened, a friend passed away, and other life stuff happened.  I had to face the reality that I’m an adult now.  Stuff I wasn’t used to.  And, so The Darndest Thing reflects that.”

Produced by The Eels’ Chet Lyster, his contributions helped ensure growth and maturity with The Darndest Thing.

“This is the first time we’ve worked with a producer,” explains Blackwell. “We did a lot of pre-production on this like we’ve never done before on previous records.  We decided from the beginning to make this record the way it is.  We were very thoughtful throughout the pre-production and recording process.”

Blackwell likens the growth to seeing your children grow up.

“I know people have used this metaphor before, but I feel like my songs are growing up.  It’s like my songs are adults now, learning to manage money and all of that,” he says with a chuckle.

Eight songs, clocking in at thirty-five minutes, The Darndest Thing is filler-free; succinct enough to keep the listeners’ attention throughout, even for those that have never heard the band before, but meaty enough to not leave you feeling empty and cheated.

While previous records have jumped around from genre to genre, The Darndest Thing finds the songs working together, each telling a story, while the music stays consistent.  It’s their first record to truly be an album, rather than a collection of fun-time, entertaining live favorites to get the crowd moving.

A big departure for the band is album opener “New Love”; the most pop-driven song the band has ever written.  A happy, up-tempo song, it instantly denotes that something different is happening with Sassparilla on this release.

“You wear two hats in a band, live shows and recorded product,” comments Blackwell.  “I like the idea of making a beautiful record, then making a show people can dance to.  That, to me, is what Sassparilla is all about.  I feel we accomplished that.  We made a record that is strong; something my peers can respect.  We made a beautiful record; not just a record that was over-the top performance wise, like we’ve done in the past.”

Sassparilla online:

Simple Sweet, releases, debut self titled full length CD


On January 7, 2012, Portland, Oregon-based quartet – Steven Dolbey (vocals, guitar), Justin Hart (vocals/guitar), Rob Throckmorton (drums) and Rob Obregon (bass) – will celebrate the release of their debut, self-titled full-length at Lola’s at the Crystal Ballroom.

Other bands TBD.  Cover is $5.00.  Doors at 8pm, show at 9pm.

Simple Sweet’s debut is a collection of ten breezy, warm pop songs that also hint at the collective members’ rock band pasts, Simple Sweet is a band that can create groove-laden songs with hooks, while always making sure the songs’ edges are sharp.

Meeting via a mutual friend, Steven Dolbey (vocals, guitar) and Justin Hart (guitar, vocals) originally intended to record a few of Dolbey’s songs at Hart’s home studio, with Hart producing them.  However, with the two collaborating on Dolbey’s songs, soon they found themselves writing together, and things began to take shape.

Even at this point, however, they were merely consumed with making demos – for fun.  The result, their self-titled debut showcases the quartet’s ability to shoot straight from the hip, creating an honest, mature pop-rock sound that is equal parts guitar-driven hooks and heart-on-the-sleeve integrity.

The album carries a varying style of melodic rock including “Weightless,” a spill-over pop number that is a rock song at heart, but fits in comfortably on adult alternative radio as well.  Meanwhile, “Simple Life” is straight-ahead guitar rock, soaked with Simple Sweet’s sugary melodic glow.

Other album standouts, such as “Something Sweet,” finds Simple Sweet pulling no punches, creating one of the loudest songs on the record.  Then there is the fierce, fiery power-pop of “Summer Song,” complete with crunchy guitars and a hip-shaking rhythm section.

The band gets tender on the ballad-esque “The Light,” a poignant, heartening song that shows the band can write slow, simmering folk-pop as well as they can rock.

From the opening of “Rain,” the album’s lead song, Simple Sweet demonstrate they can play rock music with hooks and a gorgeous underbelly.  Ending with “Sunny Days,” a song that would have fit in perfectly with the 90s alt. rock explosion, the album is a journey of rock music that is unabashed in its love of melodic pop and guitars.

Music aside, the album is also strong lyrically, filled with hope, love, depression, loss, and searching. Whether it’s the story of lost love during a natural disaster (“Rain”), remembering the carefree days of your youth (“Summer Song”), filling holes in your life with drugs and alcohol to find acceptance (“Weightless”). Or just trying to get along with someone in a relationship, whether it’s a lover or a friend (“Something Sweet”), Simple Sweet is able to craft songs with depth and a story behind them.  All while combining them with hook-laden, driven melodies that make you want to dance and sing along, without over-saturating you with sweetness to the point of forgetting the meaning behind the songs.  Not an easy task, especially considering one of the biggest obstacles coming into this record.

Hart and Dolbey had been front men in all their previous projects.  The two had never collaborated in prior outfits, other than allowing band members to accompany them on their songs.  This time around, though, they had to learn to trust each other, give up on some of their own ideas in favor of the other’s idea – choosing what was better for the song, not the ego.  In the end, it helped both grow tremendously, not just musically, but personally as well.  And helped them write a stronger album, one they are much more proud of than previous accomplishments.

Not bad for a band that began recording something with no plan and no expectations, just two new friends, creating music for fun, and helping each other become better songwriters.

Check out Simple Sweet online at: