With their self-titled debut, Sugar + the Hi Lows built a bridge between the rootsy stomp of early Sun Records tunes and the harmonized swoon of old Brill Building pop songs. Two years later, bandmates Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup are turning back the clock again with Wild Desire (Live Sessions), a seven-song EP that finds the Tennessee twosome tackling the tunes of Johnny Cash.
The project began in an unlikely place: the Nashville Ballet. That’s where Sugar + the Hi Lows debuted their own version of Cash’s country classics in early 2014, sharing the stage with a group of dancers who had choreographed a dance to the music. It was only meant to be a one-off gig, but Dabbs and Stroup became attached to songs like “Ring of Fire,” which they restructured into a sparse, swaggering duet. Watch the video (shot in black and white, as befits a tribute to the Man in Black) above.
“As Rosanne Cash said regarding ‘Ring of Fire,’ ‘The song is about the transformative power of love,'” Dabbs tells Rolling Stone Country. “We wanted to press into the mystery of Cash songs and the transcendence of his musical influence on the world.”
That meant researching each song and attacking it from a different angle. It also meant keeping things loose in the recording studio, where the pair recorded Wild Desire in a series of live takes, spread over the course of three days.
“It’s a truly powerful thing when two unexpected art forms come together for a special performance,” adds Stroup. “We got to experience this twice when we played ‘Ring of Fire’ live with the ballet, and then again when we huddled into Anthony [Matula]’s studio in [Nashville’s] Marathon Village and tried our hand at recreating the emotion for a music video.”
Sugar + the Hi Lows aren’t the only musicians tipping their hat to Johnny Cash these days. Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited hits stores on August 19th, with artists like Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and the Milk Carton Kids tackling songs from Cash’s 50 year-old album about the Native American plight.