Sometimes the best medicine for a sick world is comfort food, and we’re about to be fed chicken fried steak, homemade biscuits and a big bowl of Soul Gravy. That’s right, The Departed’s refresh of the Cross Canadian Ragweed catalog has commenced, and batting lead-off is 2004’s Soul Gravy.
Why the re-release? It’s the familiar story of record company sleight of hand, assuming ownership of music from naïve artists getting their first big deal. In the case of Cross Canadian Ragweed, the bulk of their catalog was released under the Universal South label – Cross Canadian Ragweed (a.k.a.“Purple”), Soul Gravy, Garage, Mission California, and Happiness and All the Other Things. The label owns the music, not the artists, and if the band breaks up or leaves the label, the music stays with the corporate bigwigs.
Cody Canada got hit with this reality head on. After the dust of the Ragweed breakup had settled, he began selling what remaining Ragweed merch was left in storage. Along with the shirts, hats, and belt buckles, he thought the fans would dig getting their hands on the 6 disc set, Box of Weed, which Universal had put out as a money grab, without the band’s knowledge. Upon calling the label to request a shipment, he was told he would have to buy his own music back in order to turn them around to sell at his shows. That was it, no CDs, no rights to print any vinyl, nothing. So, Cody looked down the road paved by acts like Def Leppard and Taylor Swift and decided in order to take control back, The Departed would have to re-record the entire Universal catalog.
So here we are, with the 2022 version of Soul Gravy, recorded at the Canada’s newly opened studio in their hometown of New Braunfels.
So why start with Gravy? Cody has always been vocal about his dislike for the guitar tones and other anomalies on the original record. He and lifelong pal, producer Mike McClure, never saw eye to eye on the way the first record was done. Cody told us,
“Working with McClure is always such a pleasure, but he is a very hardheaded person… and so am I. So when we got to the studio, we were so busy. It was the year we had done 250 shows, so when we rolled in, we were just worn out. Mike said we were just going to use the Pod because it was going to be quicker and easier…”
The “Pod”, made by Line6 was one of the first digital modeling amps/multi-fx pedals where you could essentially patch in pre-canned settings to mimic whatever tone you were trying to achieve.
He continued, “He thought nobody would know the difference, but I knew the difference. I felt like I didn’t really have a choice. I did, but it was just easier to say ‘ok’.”
But Canada’s reasons for starting with Soul Gravy, wasn’t just about that. “I loved the songs, I thought everything really worked together, but I just wanted to take time to make it. When we did the original version, we were only in the studio for four days, because we had to get back on the road. Now with this version, I get to have my kids involved, I get to do it my way.”
(Note: When we got the sneak peek of the record, the tracks were given to us in alphabetical order so it’s how I listened to the record the first time. Obviously, that’s not the case with the release, but keep it in mind when reading below)
The thing you definitely notice the first time through Soul Gravy are the guitars. They feel bigger in the mix and less homogeneous in tone. You hear from the get-go on the track “Again,” where Randy Rogers, who co-wrote the song with Canada, drops in for a cameo.
For the first few minutes, you nod along to all those familiar tunes, and it sounds like The Departed playing Cross Canadian Ragweed, which is an obvious, if not dumb, statement. It all changes once you hit the 2022 version of “Hammer Down.” It literally transforms the whole record, even when you go back and listen to the preceding tracks.
In an instant your ass is strapped to a rocket with the kickass pedal engaged…and you’re off. Crank it, suddenly it feels like a Cross Canadian Ragweed record. The goosebumps come back, “Cold Hearted Woman”, “Leave Me Alone” “Lonely Girl” only further cement the feeling, the universe is right.
Lee Ann Womack kills it again on “Sick and Tired,” you’re gonna like it.
The Ray Wylie Hubbard cover of “Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll” starts out pretty sketch, with two of the worst Cockney British accents you‘ve ever heard coming from Cody and Plato. Don’t quit your day job boys 😉
As for the actual song, the vibe upgrade is intense, brought to you in large part by RWH himself, who gives a haunting vocal performance that makes you feel like you’re on a train ride to hell. It’s time to rock ‘n’ roll, time to hoochie coo.
Finally, there is “Stranglehold,” the Easter egg track off the 2004 record that blew our socks off back in the day. Canada’s vocal performance rivaled the Ted Nugent original in piss and vinegar, perfectly capturing the rock ‘n’ roll ethos that was Cross Canadian Ragweed at its peak. This time around The Departed throw a curve, with female vocalist and School of Rock protégé, Elle Gorman taking the reins. Gorman trades in the screaming, opting for more a sly and seductive approach. The guitars still cut deep, while the smooth vocals dress the wounds. It works.
Going through Soul Gravy a half dozen times, the only critique I have is that there are a couple of places on the record where the vocal timing feels a bit awkward, mostly with “Alabama.” That song has been studio cut three times, and I think the version on the 2004 Soul Gravy is still my favorite. It’s probably because that’s the version that’s been engrained in our consciousness for so long that straying from it just makes my brain skip. It’s a common risk you take when you re-cut signature tunes.
Overall, you’re in for a fun ride with the 2022 incarnation of Soul Gravy. The batteries are recharged and with the various upgrades, the songs are alive and kicking rather than hung out for nostalgia’s sake. Crank it over your holiday, enjoy the good times, Garage is likely next and at some point we’ve been told we will finally get a studio version of “Mexican Sky.” It’s gonna be fun.