Nick Dittmeier & the Sawdusters understand that to stay relevant, country and Americana—like any long-running musical genres—must be unceremoniously leveled from time to time. Blasted by a cold steel wrecking ball, and reassembled into new forms atop the rubble. And what better moment for a scheduled demolition than with all of planet Earth in a holding pattern, straddling the deep chasm between past and future. Into this void arrives Heavy Denim, an album that artfully sidesteps any slavish, formulaic adherence to roots-music traditions.
“At the height of the pandemic” Dittmeier says, “it became clear to me that—with everything we’d been through—there was going to be a different mind coming out the other side. As a band, we decided we weren’t going to try to go back and replicate who we were, or the reality we were living before covid. A lot of people were fixated on getting back to quote-unquote normal, but to me it seemed pretty obvious that wasn’t even on the table.”
Forcing themselves out of their comfort zones, Dittmeier & the Sawdusters began stripping back their roots-rock bluster and leaving room for new textures: drum machines, loopers, synths. Heavy Denim finds Dittmeier and the Sawdusters fearlessly reinventing their sound. The album is in the tradition of Dire Straits’ spacey, synth-anchored early-’90s country curveball On Every Street; Alabama Shakes’ transformation from gritty Southern neo-soul revue to danceable indie-rock darlings on Sound & Color; and the symphonic R&B and art-folk Sturgill Simpson wove on the astral loom that is A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. With its refreshing creativity and sonic adventurousness, Heavy Denim is one of those rare and wonderful records that expands the boundaries of its genre.