Glasgow based Sparrow And The Workshop are described as a “dark folktrio” who “flit from delicate Americana to crashing post-rock at thedrop of a hat”, which is, surely, a portrayal intriguingenough to prick the most cynical of ears.
To also describe their method as “gloriously new”, however, is a tadmisleading: Sparrow And The Workshop are just one of the myriad acts tohave mated folk with an overdrive pedal. Even in this latest phase,indeed, they seem to follow a trail already thoroughly blazed by KillIt Kid and the like.
Nevertheless, attempts to coax eclectic, traditional influences intoa cohesive, modern sound are currently au fait and Sparrow’ssound – though perhaps somewhat short of groundbreaking – is part of arelatively new trend, the band seeking to make themselves a welcomeaddition to an increasingly significant and influential field.
Crystals Fall is their first long-player, though only two of thetracks are fresh compositions, the vast majority of the albumbeing made up of tracks from their previous EPs. And recycling, as weall know, is a good thing… Right?
The result is a collection of tracks worthy of admiration. Openinggambit Into The Wild, for instance, serves as an aural microcosm of theband’s constituent members: here we have Jill O’Sullivan’s Irish-born,Chicago-raised timbre evoking ancient-yet-raucous imagery, ScotsmanGregor Donaldson’s instinctive drumming and subtle harmonies, andWelshman Nick Packer’s vibrant, unrestrained guitar.
Blame It On Me then successfully melds a folkish progression withPixies-style quite-loud-quiet dynamism, O’Sullivan’s delicatetone worthy of any and all parallels drawn with the likes of SandyDenny, Amy Macdonald and even PJ Harvey.
Not that Sparrow And The Workshop are a distinctive voice and littleelse: the songwriting on display betrays a maturity beyond the trio’syears, and never more so than on I Will Break You, a brooding, achingnumber that sounds like an old treasure Cat Power stumbled acrossin a 100-year-old folk song compendium. Mercenary, similarly, seems tochannel a ghostly military hymn, O’Sullivan’s crescendo augmented byDonaldson’s harmony and that promised “crashing post-rock” making anexplosive and well-timed appearance.
Donaldson, indeed, features in greater prominence on Swam Like Sharks- a bruising ballad not a million miles removed from Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell – before Last Chance ups the affair’straditional roots with a breathless country strum and dark,western-esque lyrical turns (“I could have sworn I killed you / I evenchecked your pulse”), not unlike debut single and Rawhide-sound-alike,Devil Song.
And the efforts continue in earnest until the album echoes out ofearshot, its lasting impression one of an outfit who take care to craftrather than wring out their songs, select only the choicest oftraditional influences, and instil in their work – be it plugged in andcrashing or toned down and delicate – with an unmistakable element ofbeauty. The ascent of folk music’s derivatives will go on in the handsof such able custodians.