Music

Tami Neilson Is Woke on 'SASSAFRASS!'

Photo courtesy of Conqueroo

SASSAFRASS! is a sly act of subversion as Tami Neilson's vocals and lyrics are unapologetic as she confidently calls for equality.

SASSAFRASS!
Tami Neilson

Outside Music

1 June 2018

Tami Neilson is woke. Her new album SASSAFRASS! is a rockabilly-infused roots album that confidently calls for equality. Her liner notes emphatically dedicate the album to "every woman and man, fighting the good fight for equality". The Canadian-born, New Zealand-based singer/songwriter's newest release, out June 1 from Outside Music, is a rollicking and gritty album. SASSAFRASS! is a sly act of subversion as Neilson's vocals and lyrics are unapologetic while the music unleashes resolute assurance. In doing so, she imbues the album with a pertinent sense of society while projecting her vision of progress.

Neilson comes out swinging with the opening track "Stay Outta My Business". The song introduces Neilson's full vocal range which she continues to feature for the album's duration. The track has a clear rockabilly vibe as listeners hear country, rock 'n' roll, and soul music overlap. She toys with the specters of Wanda Jackson's electric vocals while her lyrics embrace modernity. The track is an absolute feminist anthem. Neilson uses each verse to feature differing double standards imposed onto women. As she sings "a woman stay home to raise the babies / 'Must be nice to do nothing, must be lazy' / And so she go out to make the money / 'How can you leave your babies, you're a bad, bad Mommy'." She ultimately demands "stay outta my business" and keeps her power intact.

SASSAFRASS!, the slang term for a self-assured person, announces the album's theme before listening. Almost every track specifically deals with a myriad of issues that compromise equality. The binary forcing women to identify as either virginal or accursed is conjured in "Devil in a Dress". The melody is echoed by a trumpet, an instrument traditionally used to symbolize dichotomy, which is fitting for the track's subject. On "Bananas" she argues for equal pay for women when she croons, "It's bananas she wants equal pay just for / Working all night and day." Here she also uses double entendre to represent the association between anatomy and gender norms in a hilarious manner.

"Smoking Gun" specifically contends with the predatory and rampant sexual misconduct "neath the Hollywood sign" and the survivors who "paid up their ransom in flesh". It's difficult not to envision Harvey Weinstein's repugnant face when Neilson sings "the king of the casting couch... squirming like a worm under our magnifying glass". Hushed vocals interlaced by Joe McCallum's percussion gives the track a menacing feel while awakening memories of Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang".

The lyrical empowerment carries over to the raucous "Kitty Cat". Here Neilson reminds that a woman's body is her own and men are not entitled to sex. She specifically addresses the archaic but unfortunately prevalent norm about putting out after a purchased dinner. Yet Neilson mocks entitlement when she sings, "Don't you say no and make me pout / Kitty cat, kitty cat / Don't be a silly brat / One little kiss ain't going to put you out."

Likewise, self-reliance is the focus of "Diamond Ring" as she serenades "If there's a table for one / I'm going to take it / Don't need the pain that lovin' brings." This particular track incorporates rich vocal harmonies from female backup singers evoking a Doo-wop sound. That energy is carried over to the ballad "One Thought of You", underscored by Neil Watson's pedal steel guitar. Both tracks reiterate the sound of a bygone era.

Neilson's gratitude is generous as several tracks are testimonials to her predecessor's influences. She pays tribute to Sharon Jones as the "Genuine, real deal / Girl has always kept it real" on the soul number "Miss Jones". Dealing with her own bouts of sexism and racism, Jones' powerhouse personality and musicality are obviously Neilson's inspiration. The tributes continue as "Manitoba Sunrise at Motel 6" is written in homage to Glen Campbell while "A Woman's Pain" illustrates Neilson's first-nation grandmother. This track returns Neilson to country music as her acoustic guitar finds a balance between the bass and strings.

Throughout SASSAFRASS!, Neilson challenges dominant forms of oppression while calling for progressive change. Her candor contributes to the album's mettle and strength. Neilson undoubtedly channels self-empowerment and societal change to position SASSAFRASS! as musical dynamite.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.

Film

A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.

Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.