The unusual “double brother” four piece The Sawtooth Brothers aren’t attempting to remake the wheel, but it’s scarcely possible to hear their album One More Flight without thinking that these profoundly gifted performers have discovered a way of bringing the traditional sounds of country and bluegrass into seamless harmony with pop music instincts, and literate narratives that never veer deep into tropes or inaccessibility. This is a fully-formed debut, not the product of a fledgling musical vision. The eleven songs are distinguished by any apparent lack of filler and startling skill. The band, since their 2008 formation, has built an exemplary reputation in the music community as talented and dependable professionals who have shared stages across Canada and seven states with unique luminaries like Garrison Keillor and Dr. Ralph Stanley. One pass through One More Flight reveals why.
The cunning and tangible intelligence underlying much of their songwriting is immediately apparent. The opener “Another Cliché” is the album’s single-begging-to-be-a-single, a gloriously droll recital of popular music clichés tied up into a surprisingly cohesive narrative. Their musical touch remains light throughout, but it isn’t because these are players unable to bring the full weight of their skill to bear. Instead, the guiding aesthetic behind their music, less is more, helps them create truly indelible material. One More Flight’s second track, “Country Road X”, picks up listeners with a similar array of surprises. It’s absolutely refreshing to hear how skillfully the band’s songwriting embraces a modern energy, popular devices in Americana and mainstream popular music, yet never loses its tether to the roots that give it genuine weight. The rousing “On Top of the World” has a profound effect on the album’s first half – though the Sawtooth Brothers haven’t skimped on the listener to this point, this song marks a place where they seemingly aim to elevate everything one more notch and push the band just a little further past the borders of traditional music.
“Summer All the Time” pulls back the reins some on the boundless energy opening the album and gives listeners a relaxed, coolly confident track belling its perky title. Their ability to shift gears without losing the listeners they’ve garnered up to this point is further testimony to their wide-ranging skills. “Don’t Go It Alone” builds on those sort of qualities further with its style and ultimately positive message. Those who might believe that traditional country and bluegrass are often home to dark and brooding songwriting will have their heads spinning after hearing songs like this that embrace abiding musical virtues within a traditional framework and communicate in surprising ways with their audiences.
“The River and You” is one of the album’s best songs, a pure love song with a bright, easy going disposition and resonant imagery sure to strike chords with wider audiences. The deliberate pace, nuance, and gradual evolution of “I Should Be Going” hits on one of the album’s few truly melancholic notes, but they never lapse into melodrama and pose everything within a clear musical frame that knows when to pull back and push itself harder. The album’s finale, “Take Me Away”, is a mandolin driven closer and charmer that brings One More Flight to close on a singularly pleasant note.