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Sparrow and the Workshop

Sleight of Hand EP

(Distiller; US: 2 Jun 2009; UK: 1 Jun 2009)

The trio that makes up Sparrow and the Workshop got together in Glasgow, after singer and violinist Jill O’Sullivan moved from Chicago, and players Nick Parker and Gregor Donaldson moved up from London. It’s a fact worth noting, because the band’s sound on Sleight of Hand is made up of elements that seem disconnected from each other. Parker’s make-shift, dry-snapping percussion should be a rickety foundation for the full, haunting swell of Sullivan’s vocals. Meanwhile, between them Donaldson’s playing can be controlled and stately, particularly on “The Gun”. But he also joins his bandmates and kicks up a storm on the barn-stomping “Last Chance” or the ramshackle waltz of “I Will Break You”. As rough around the edges as these songs can be, it’s amazing when they find the beauty in the middle of it all and come together to make it shine through. At its best, the record takes folk-revival leanings and filters them through a very modern, very energetic tension, though the EP closes out too quietly with the simple folk of “My Crime” and “Broken Heart, Broken Home”. After so much frenetic energy early on, you might find this a bit too safe for a band that, to that point, was unafraid to take chances.


Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.

Sparrow and the Workshop - I Will Break You
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