It’s not easy to be a Sass Jordan fan in Alabama. Some of her stuff over the years hasn’t even been released in the U.S., and I don’t think she’s toured within 1,000 miles of here since I missed her in 1994 with the flu. Thanks largely to my well-connected Facebook friend Mitch, I became aware of S.U.N. (Something Unto Nothing), her latest project, and what a project it is.
Well, it’s their latest project. S.U.N. has one of rock’s best voices up front, and Brian Tichy on guitar. (Isn’t he a drummer?) Yes. He’s one hell of a guitarist, too. Michael Devin and Tommy Stewart round out the all-star lineup.
I’ve enjoyed Sass Jordan’s mellower stuff, but I’ve always thought she was a better rocker than anything else. Here she is unambiguously rocking, for the first time since 1994’s Rats.
Something Unto Nothing is a record of soundscapes. It’s got delicious, boot-stomping sleaze. It’s got nods to the best of grunge and post-grunge. Over here is a valley of groove, with periodic stands of blues. Over there is a vista of Zeppelinesque drum walls and phrasing. The common thread is hard rock purity.
Speaking of Led Zeppelin, I’ll get my only real knock on the album out of the way. The opener “Burned” is a good time, but I can’t recall ever hearing a song that cribbed from “Black Dog” so consistently and completely. Given the excellence of the rest of the package, it’s an odd, almost dissonant lead-off choice.
The guitar sound on the first single “Nomad” would have been at home on the first Audioslave record. Sass Jordan’s formidable pipes complete a tasty combination. (You can get that track free right here, and you should.) “No Way Home” is a reliable smile generator and toe-tapper, and the best Southern rock/metal mash-up in some time. “If I Was You,” despite the grammatical misstep, is a marvelous and wistful ballad, ethereal without getting too airy. We have exactly no filler here, boys and girls. A more consistently high-quality album is rarely made.
The title cut deserves extended mention. A look at the run time of “Something Unto Nothing” and a tiptoe into the first couple of minutes tells you it’s ambitious, and on a hard rock record, all too often ambition means opportunity for bloat and self-indulgence. Instead, this is an appealingly understated and mature masterpiece, seductive in its buildup and relentless when the heavy guitars finally hit. I listen to a song like this and wonder if they realized how special it was while they were writing it, and that awareness forced detachment in an effort to keep it special.
(I’m also curious as to whether it predated the band name, and they named themselves after the best song.)
This album awakens old sentiments in me. It reminds me of high school and college, when heavy rock occupied most of my leisure time. I considered a new album thoughtfully and unhurriedly, because that was the best way to hear something new and wonderful on the way back through another listen. S.U.N. – Something Unto Nothing is of that caliber. Fantastic job, ladies and gentlemen.