by Roman Mitz
Sass Jordan is something of an enigma. The Birmingham England native relocated to Montreal at a young age and grew up in what was a burgeoning 70s music scene which included a no holds barred approach to glam, punk and progressive metal. There was no better musical place to be at the time and this was the backdrop that nurtured one of the pioneers of female-fronted rock. Sass’s debut ‘Tell Somebody’ was released in 1988 and it wasn’t long before her scorching vocals on the title track and other Canadian hit singles like ‘Double Trouble’, led her to be crowned Queen of Rock. Sass regularly released albums into the early 2000s, when she switched gears and started a six-year stint as one of the four judges on the hugely popular television series, Canadian Idol. Fueled by her success on that program Sass resumed her recording career, rocking out over the course of three more albums. Now the chameleon-like singer is staking new ground as a straight-ahead blues belter on her new album ‘Rebel Moon Blues’. If you’ve followed Sass’s career, however, you know that her music has always contained R & B and blues elements, so it’s really not that much of a stretch.
“That’s true, and the blues is such an integral part of pretty much all the music I hear right now,” said Sass over the phone, where she’s hunkered down in Toronto. “It’s roots music and the roots of everything we hear now is blues, country and jazz. Those are the three roots of the big popular music tree.”
Although she’s talking about a blues record, Sass has an infectious laugh that finds its way into much of our conversation and also punctuates several of the album’s tracks. The album begins with Taj Mahal’s ‘Leaving Trunk’, which features some uplifting harp work courtesy of Steve Marriner. While some classic blues records deal with sombre subjects like polishing off a bottle of turpentine or laying one’s head on the railway track, ‘Rebel Moon Blues’ comes across as far more positive.
“I think that there’s a misunderstanding of the blues from people who are not necessarily that familiar with the genre,” she explains. “There’s an enormous amount of hope in this kind of music, hope and knowing that your darker side is shared by basically everyone. It’s a genre that has an energy that brings people together. It started, really, with the slaves who were looking forward to better days and finding a way out. There’s a lot of that energy in blues music I find, and it’s something we all share, especially right now.”
The album contains covers of seven blues songs from a wide range of artists including Willie Dixon, Keb’ Mo’ and Sonny Boy Williamson, plus one original song called ‘The Key’ that Sass co-wrote in under an hour. (“Good songs usually come out that way. It’s a moment of inspiration and if you follow it and just let it download into your consciousness, it’s remarkable how quickly it happens.”) Based on the early buzz about this album which debuted in the Top 5 on Billboard’s Blues album chart, perhaps we’re in store for a follow up of original blues songs from Sass.
“Quite frankly I don’t know if I’d consider doing an album of original blues material,” she begins. “There’s just such a rich mine of this stuff that it’s like I don’t know that I can say anything new. Well, let’s face it, you never do anyway. I’m more into exploring what’s already there right now. For this album, I wanted to pick songs that were somewhat familiar but not done to death. There are a couple that have been covered an inordinate number of times like ‘My Babe’. Basically we pretty faithfully took it from Little Walter. It’s a style and a way of approaching something that’s timeless. The fresh or new feel that’s in it from my point of view, is that it’s me singing and my band playing it. People ask me if I’m trying to expand the female presence in the blues genre and that’s not remotely the case. I never think about stuff like that. To me, music is pretty well genderless in its reach and its impact. When I started out I never thought about being a female singer. I was just a singer and someone who wanted to express it in that way.“
‘Rebel Moon Blues’ has a very spontaneous feel to it and Sass explains that this is because they did it live off the floor at Canterbury Studio in Toronto, with a maximum of three takes on any song. Turns out her band are not only stellar players but they also possess some pretty authentic vocal chops. While you may not mistake them for Ray Charles’ Raelette’s, they do provide splendid R & B background vocals on songs like ‘Palace Of The King’.
“Yeah, the boys did a really good job on it. We did that song live in the latter part of last year and it was just great. They’re pretty good singers and on ‘Palace Of The King’ it’s just the boys and me and a dear friend of mine named Hill Kourkoutis on backing vocals. On ‘My Babe’ it’s just the guys and they actually did the fade-out by backing up from their microphones. It’s a real fade, not a board fade. That’s the way they did it in the olden days so we thought why not try doing that.”
One of the many highlights of the album is Sass’s passionate take on Elmore James’ ‘One Way Out’. More people have likely heard the Allman Brothers’ version, however, and they were the source for this take of the song.
”The version that we do on the record is definitely more the Allman Brothers because we even reference another Allman Brothers song,” Sass says. “I have loved the Allman Brothers since I was aware of them which I guess was in my teens. I adore Gregg Allman. He was just such a wonderful singer and player. It’s not that he was technically so fantastic. He’s not a virtuoso in that way but it’s just his incredible emotional delivery that I love. It’s the emotion I feel from the singing more than the actual notes themselves.”
While ‘Rebel Moon Blues’ may be pretty far removed stylistically from Sass’s debut album, there’s one constant and that is her powerful voice. Her vocals have lost none of their strength since day one and, if anything, they’re a little more potent now.
“It’s funny but the other day I was listening to a song called ‘Steel On Steel’ from the first album and I was amazed at how young I sounded on that record. On my goodness,” she laughs. “It just sounded child-like to me. It’s the same voice but you can really hear the youthfulness in it. All these years later I think I sing better. The phrasing and intensity are pretty much the same, but the timbre is different.”
Before the Covid-19 outbreak, Sass was touring in the latest installment of ‘A Bowie Celebration’ which features musicians from David Bowie’s bands from across the decades. It was anchored by his longest-standing band member Mike Garson along with a revolving selection of additional Bowie band alumni. Sass simply loves this tour, which is currently on hiatus, and she is keen on doing some more dates as well as taking ‘Rebel Moon Blues’ to the masses.
“I would love to do more of the Bowie stuff if it fits in with what I’m doing and the people in the Bowie band are available. It’s a strange time so who knows? I’m so excited to do the blues stuff live but at this point, the only thing I feel sort of sure about is that next year will be a year of touring this record which is ironic because by that time I plan to have a new one ready to go. That’s perfect because there will be even more material to choose from.”
Given the Bowie connection perhaps Sass’s next record will feature a blues rendering of one of the Thin White Duke’s songs. Maybe a reworking of ‘All The Young Dudes’ featuring a bottleneck guitar solo?
“Well there is a song by Bowie that we’ve been doing in the show which I had no idea was a cover,” she says. “The song is (singing) ‘It Ain’t Easy’ and it’s a full blues song. I was also watching this documentary on Mick Ronson, Bowie’s guitarist from The Spiders From Mars, who was talking about Bowie’s song ‘The Jean Genie’. It has this blues lick in it (she sings the riff) and I was absolutely stunned because it had never occurred to me to think of it in a blues context, yet when he said that it’s so obvious. I mean it sounds like John Lee Hooker for goodness sake. So if I was to do a song by Bowie in a blues context I would only do the obvious ones like those two. But I don’t think I’ll do that because I get my Bowie stuff out with the Bowie Celebration.”
The last song on ‘Rebel Moon Blues’ is a moving cover of Gary Moore’s ‘Still Got The Blues’. While it may be a blues song on the surface, the underlying message is one of everlasting love.
“That was the very first song that we decided we were going to do. The producer said that this blues thing might not be a bad idea and he suggested this song because it sounded like something I might do anyway. I could not have agreed more and I just love that song because everyone can relate to it in some way.”
While Sass’s tour plans are up in the air for the time being she does have an ongoing side venture in the form of her ‘Kick-Ass Sass’ brand of white and red wines. And there’s some stronger stuff coming.
“Yeah, wine is my thing and I’m never going to stop that. I’m also in the middle of creating a whiskey. It’s pretty well ready to go except for the fact that the virus is keeping everything on hold right now. I don’t know of another female doing a spirit so that’s cool. It’s called Rebel Moon whiskey and that’s how we got the name for the record.”
‘Rebel Moon Blues’ is available on all streaming platforms, but Open Spaces’ favourite format is the Smokey Blue vinyl version that you can order from her website. https://www.merchmrkt.com/merchmrkt/vendor/sassjordan
Back To The Country
Contributing her own voice to the women’s movement with her latest single ‘All Woman’, country artist Nicole Rayy has been spreading her mantra across the land. Rayy takes that one step further with the release of the ‘All Woman’ EP, a new a six-track collection speaking to the truths, experiences, and emotions that have built Rayy into the woman she is today. Known for writing pop anthems with a country sensibility, Nicole isn’t an artist who can be categorized in one box alone. “I’ve always drawn inspiration from many genres of music and it’s nice to feel like I can include those inspirations into my music, but still tell a story like a classic country song. That being said, I do hope this record stands out as being uniquely it’s own.“
New Brunswick country rocker Josh Norrad is back with a new single entitled ‘To The Wind’, which drops on April 7. Since the release of his debut album, he has been nominated for six Music New Brunswick Awards, two times for Country Artist of the Year. Describing the single Josh says “What I loved most about the song when I heard the demo is that it is real. It really captures the feeling of young rebellious passion, but it does so in such a simple way. I have been a car guy forever so the mention of a speeding car burning down a dirt road also caught my attention.”
Singer/songwriter Sykamore is set to release her latest EP ‘California King’ on April 3. Written and recorded in her recently adopted hometown of Nashville TN, the EP is a mix of equal parts country and pop. She comes with a heavyweight endorsement from superstar Rhett Akins, who became familiar with her music online and signed her to his Music City publishing company.
CCMA nominated roots artist JJ Shiplett has just released ‘Fingers Crossed’, his new EP. JJ has consciously and passionately forged his own path, spending a year pouring over every detail of recording, writing and arranging, playing many of the instruments and cutting his teeth on both engineering and producing. The EP was preceded by the successful first single ‘Waiting On The Rain’, which JJ was apprehensive about releasing at first. “Was it too personal? Too honest? A slow, sad song in what felt like an upbeat world. The response was overwhelming to me as close friends, family and complete strangers all let me know that they felt the same way and that the song mattered to them.”