Album Reviews

Sparrow And The Workshop – Sleight Of Hand

(Distiller) UK release date: 1 June 2009

Sparrow And The Workshop - Sleight Of Hand Sparrow And The Workshop. It’s a beguiling name, and one possessive of a slightly haunting veneer. A veneer that is buffed with the photo of a dead sparrow which is nestled into the band’s MySpace profile. But it’s more than appropriate, for beguiling and haunting are adjectives which summarise Sparrow And The Workshop folk exploits rather neatly, but by no means is that the full story.

Sparrow And The Workshop is a three-piece from Glasgow. At least, they reside in Glasgow. In truth, they are equal parts American, Welsh and Scottish, and formed when vocalist Jill O’Sullivan and bassist Nick Packer (who had both been living in London) responded to drummer Gregor Donaldson’s advert on Gumtree for tenants for his flat in Glasgow. It’s a serendipitous tale, and once the trio discovered each other’s talents, they got to work on O’Sullivan’s collection of songs she’d been performing solo under the name Dead Sparrow.

This EP is their second release, and follows the May release of their debut single, Devil Song. And it is that song that opens the EP, fanfared by classy, ’60s sounding boy/girl vocal interplay before a galloping Johnny Cash rhythm section strangleholds the song and drags it through two and a half minutes of frenzied, rambunctious folk music.

This gives way to Last Chance, whose elegant and haunting performance is almost beyond words. The soaring, intricately entwined vocal melodies of O’Sullivan and Packer cause goosebumps, and listening to the EP as a whole it’s clear that the addition of Packer to the vocal line up adds a much needed support to O’Sullivan, whose occasionally harsh Chicago delivery occasionally grates. Packer takes the edge off, and provides a subtle, modest vocal base that allows O’Sullivan, unleashed, to soar.

The shimmering acoustics and sultry vocal delivery of The Gun are reminiscent of Laura Marling, but throughout, Sparrow And The Workshop pair a modern twist with a very traditional and rootsy folk ambience that is reminiscent of such folk luminaries as Fairport Convention.

The tumbling and unruly structure, bright acoustic guitar and heart-breaking vocal performance of I Will Break You stands with Last Chance as a prominent highlight. My Crime, however, is a slower, more considered song, too laboured to be enjoyable. While it takes its aim at poignant and emotive it is Sleight Of Hand’s most skippable track.

Sparrow And The Workshop are best when they’re at their most racey and bitter, where the galloping sound that leaps forth becomes more than the sum of its parts, full of enchantment and excitement underpinned by a ghostly waywardness. In this gear they make a very promising start to their fledgling career.

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Sparrow And The Workshop – Crystals Fall
Sparrow And The Workshop – Sleight Of Hand