Using the writer Dashiell Hammett’s most well-known creation, the detective Sam Spade, as a name for a rockabilly/rock n’ roll band from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada seems at first like quite a stretch. Sam Spade was made famous in the movie version of The Maltese Falcon where he was played by Humphrey Bogart, who at the time, and arguably still today emanates the idea of what cool is. But cool in the sense that it means today is not the idea that first comes to mind when listening to the band Sam Spades. However their debut album Wolf emanates a completely different kind of cool, the kind which was used amongst the first wave of hipsters, before that word too was stolen and molded into the monstrous and monotonous reference to just about anyone these days.
With Wolf, Sam Spades has reached back into a different era, an era of stand-up bass, twangy and bluesy guitars and songs about people who only come out after it gets dark outside. The reasoning for this is two-fold. Sam Spades recorded Wolf live, going into the studio with songs that were still very rough. However that rough and live sound was exactly what Sam Spades was trying to capture and with the help of vintage equipment like tube gear and ribbon mics, they did in essence produce an album that sounds as though it was recorded live.
Without knowing this information though, it is almost impossible to tell that the album was recorded live from a listener’s standpoint. Perhaps this is due to the crisp harmonies and vocal arrangements found on the upbeat honky-tonk opener “Last Call” as well as the rockabilly style jam session that the song eventually becomes. It proves pretty quickly that Sam Spades is pretty good at being a group of pick-up musicians and work very well together, even without too much rehearsal. This comes through again on the country western crooning “Home” a knee-slapping dirge which again displays some nice vocal harmonies.
The title track “Wolf” takes a step back from the previous country and western feel of the previous songs and releases a howl of rockabilly and blues, as is “Trouble,” which as it unfolds the narrator recounts the story of a woman who has just walked into the bar he’s in and though he is interested in her, one gets the idea that she may be more trouble than she’s worth.
With Wolf Sam Spades has made a classic blues and rockabilly album that sounds as fresh and relevant as the throw-back bands that they’ve chosen to emulate. And for any fans of rockabilly Wolf would be an excellent record to add to your collection.
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