Earlier this week The Tragically Hip surprised us with their Saskadelphia EP release. The band, having retired after the 2017 passing of lead singer and lyricist Gord Downie, recovered 5 of the 6 tracks during a recording period in New Orleans back in 1991 and believed they had been lost in a studio fire back in 2008. At the time these tracks were recorded The Hip had just gone platinum with their debut album in Canada and were attempting to branch out into the US and maintain their success going into their second album.
A really fun fact about this EP is that the 5 songs recorded in 1991 were done at the now, closed Kingsway Studio, a mansion in the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The walls are 14ft tall and it was built in the 1800s. As a studio, it saw many album recordings by some of the industry greats like Emmylou Harris, U2, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Peter Gabriel, R.E.M., Robbie Robertson, Sheryl Crow, and Pearl Jam, among many others. The local legend goes that the house is haunted by the spirit of Germaine Cazenave Wells, a former Kingsway owner and alcoholic, who died as the result of falling and hitting her head. Though she may have moved on from the physical world, the story is that you can still hear her partying from beyond.
In context with Saskadelphia I would describe these 5 songs as having a deep south influence in the instrumentation and I loved Gord’s vocals and lyrics as well. My favorite track on the EP is “Reformed Baptist Blues”, it feels like one of those songs I would describe as “all gas, no brakes” in the energy it’s giving off. The recording has a gritty quality to it, the lyrics and the riffs are super memorable. The drums are also killer and overall it’s a rip-roaring good song that really feels like a young band firing creatively on all cylinders, playing for restless ghosts and picky execs in a bayou mansion.
The whole EP is solid in my opinion and I think it comes from a variety of factors. I think the fact that it had been lost for 30 years is part of what gives it this feeling like it was unearthed in a time machine, and mostly recorded at an earlier point in the Hip’s run where they were hot off the success of their first album and getting ready to make their second.
I also think because Gord Downie was such a prolific and skilled lyricist that each song feels unique and I think it’s better that it’s come out now in 2021 than it would have if it stayed just for a b-side on Road Apples. You can listen to “Reformed Baptist Blues” along with the whole Saskadelphia EP on all streaming services.