The North & South Dakotas, from the Saratoga area, have been bringing their blend of bluegrass, country and rock n’ roll infused folk to music fans around the area since 2013. While they’ve always been a great combination of those genres, their new release ‘Been Away’ shows them able to put together an album that even further masters that sound. Start to finish, this is a great piece of alt-country, full of a healthy portion of slide guitar, great harmonies and songs that just sound like the sound track to living and loving far away from the lights of any big city.
The album’s opening track “Caroline” starts off full of twangy goodness and sets the tone for the album, in the listener’s mind it’s all rural country life, there’s going to be lots long roads and heartbreak. But perhaps most importantly there’s some fast-as-lightning string picking and great melodies to carry us through the ups and downs. Once the vocals kick in, you know you couldn’t be listening to any other group it’s the distinct sound of Zack Hay’s voice, now with a hint more grit and attitude from their previous releases.
Sometimes though, the long nights full of whiskey, the growing feeling of needing a change, and perhaps a bad choice or two catch up with you and a day in bed is in order, contemplating how rough the lows really may have become. On one of the records slower tunes, “Please Don’t Wake Me” there’s talk about about speaking with the devil if he chooses to shows up, and admitting maybe it’s time to pack up and move along. “I ain’t ashamed to float like a feather as I fall from grace. And I ain’t putting up a fight, and heaven knows I’ve tried, and when I land, you know I’ll find my place.” Guitarist Mark Retajczyk never misses the opportunity to throw in a classy guitar solo and in the video below, seeing the band in the warm golden glow of a fall corn field helps you hear the breath of hope even in a sad song.
Other stand out tracks include “Katie”, fast paced with quick little starts and stops this is a song in the live setting that is going to get the ground shaking resulting from a room full of stompin’ boots. Nayt Patenaude sets the strings of the mandolin on fire in this track, good luck trying to sit still when it hits your ears. Throughout the album, the rhythm section of Mike Graves on drums and Colin Hunt on bass stay locked in time and provide a steady backbone throughout an album with plenty of musical turns and changes in tempo that give the songs life.
“Nowhere Slow” is a little more outlaw country, like a dark storm rolling in, hot on your trail as you bolt out of town. The break down towards the end even sounds as if they threw a dash of sludgy metal into the every-type-of-Americana stew they’ve whipped up through the album. “Prayin'” will be the track that gets hips swayin’, before leading into the album’s final track “Swan”. The album’s closing track talks about making the way back home, after an album that has taken the listener through several tales of love, a few lonely nights, and no shortage of fun evenings spent with a drink in hand. With a long instrumental close to the song and album we’re reminded that these tracks are just as catchy as they are complex, and at its heart this is a group of very talented guys that are capable of showing us a good time while maintaining a level of depth and integrity that is often lacking in modern country music.
On Saturday, February 13th The North & South Dakotas will be celebrating the release of Been Away at The Parting Glass in Saratoga. $10 entry also gets you a copy of the new album. The night will start off with a performance from Rebel Darling, the full band that M.R. Poulopoulos, one of the area’s strongest songwriters, puts together with a rotating cast of talent. Doors open at 7pm, music is set to start at 8pm. The Parting Glass is located at 40 Lake Ave. in downtown Saratoga.
Key Tracks: Katie, Nowhere Slow, Please Don’t Wake Me