sex as a foreign language

awkward aural adventures

Sparrow & The Workshop @ The Fly

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Deep in the bowels of The Fly there is something special taking place. Ridiculously early on a Friday evening three figures are on stage, laughing and joking, tinkering before launching into a swirling song that builds and swoops, seeping out from the stage into the crowd, unfurling along the cracks of The Fly’s low basement ceiling. The crowd start to nod in appreciation as the music takes hold, and then Jill O’Sullivan starts to sing.

Sparrow and the workshop

It’s a quite breathtaking thing to witness as Sparrow & The Workshop take flight. The Glaswegian band, fronted by Chicago native O’Sullivan, creates intricate, looping folk music that brings to mind She and Him, early Cat Power records and the ‘Man In Black’. The first two might be no coincidence, O’Sullivan has a voice that is parts Chan Marshall, part Tracey Chapman and part something truly unique. There are elements of PJ Harvey there as well, in tracks like ‘Devil Song’, though that is surely coloured by the addition of drummer Gregor Donaldsons rolling Cave-esque vocals that lend echos of Murder Ballads era work to proceedings.
Yet for all the reference points Sparrow & The Workshop sound fresh, vital and devoid of the pratfalls of genre cliché. Multi instrumentalist Nick Packer adds dimensions to each song that range from lilting country ballads to searing guitar crescendos, bringing a vibe pitched somewhere between Johnny Greenwood and Ron Ashton. Tracks like ‘I Will Break You’, formerly dedicated to vice-pitbull Palin, are among the most instantly effecting songs I’ve seen performed live this year. There’s an ease to Sparrow & The Workshops stage presence that is humbling. They give the impression everything is being assembled live before your eyes onstage, and yet what transpires is a complex weave of sound and melody, a mesmeric whole that draws you into their world, removing all trace of your surroundings. They manage to succeed in that ultimate illusion; that they are playing purely for you.
There are a couple of technical hitches to overcome, nothing like the severity of recent live calamities, such as snapped bass strings and bloodied noses, and they just add an edge to the music that makes it all the more appealing. The songs themselves walk a line between traditional storytelling and more opaque parables. The band have only been together for a little over a year, so they are very much in transition as their sound becomes more concrete, but already they have the nucleus of something important. It’s a brief set as they are a late addition to the bill but it’s one that will stick long and clear with those earlybirds who made it down and earmarks Sparrow & The Workshop as one of the names to watch during 2009 as great things must surely be just around the corner.

Sparrow & The Workshop release ‘Devil Song/ The Cold-Hearted Twist’ on May 11th through Distiller Records
Followed by a short Player ‘Sleight Of Hand’ on May 25th, also on Distiller.

For live dates and the hypnotic Devil Song video check their MySpace page!

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