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Eeep! EP reviews: My Cousin the Emperor, The Subway EPs; and Sara Banleigh, The Folk EP

Driftwood tends to stick to full-length material. So let’s take a look at a couple shorter format records today!

My Cousin the Emperor
The Subway EPs, Vol 1: Prospect Park West
The Subway EPs, Vol 2: Broadway-Lafayette
Self-released 2011

Brooklyn alt-country and indie rockers My Cousin The Emperor took some diverse material and separated it into two cohesive wholes on The Subway EPs. It’s one of those rare moves by a diverse artist that could easily come across as a gimmick if it wasn’t such a savvy nod to audience tastes. Maybe you like your Americana acoustic, full of nods to the Appalachians, pretty melodies, and a heart-felt waltzes. Go with Prospect Park West. Prefer upbeat, electric, blues- and country-tinged indie rock? Broadway-Lafayette has your fix.

There are some dangers in doing this, of course. Bright Eyes did it in 2005 with I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. One of these albums catapulted him into a much broader audience, and it turned out to be the one with mandolins and bluegrass rhythms. My Cousin the Emperor has solved this problem by putting the EPs back to back on a single disc but splitting them up online.

Both discs end with particularly strong songs: Prospect Park West with the final waltz, “Annie (The Levy Song),” whose close harmonies are echoed in my favorite track on Broadway-Lafayette, “Early Morning Snow,” a full duet that teases with an acoustic intro before exploding, with the heavy vibrato on an wildly distorted electric guitar pushing the dissonance to a stunning, shivering effect.

—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)

[Editorial note: The group will have a CD release party at Southpaw on April 9 (with The Loom & Yellowbirds) in their hometown. More info is at their web site.]

Sara Banleigh
The Folk EP
Self-released (2010)

On The Folk EP, Sara Banleigh has picked five traditional songs from the British Isles and given them chamber-tinged arrangements of lush piano, violin, and guitar. The prominent use of piano alone is worthy of note for the genre. Her semi-operatic “proper” vocals could easily be mistaken for a number of 1960s folk singers (it would be more unusual if Anne Briggs and Joan Baez were not influences here). And though nothing on the disc is overly obscure, none of the songs are overdone chestnuts. So here you’ll find, for instance, “Mary Hamilton” instead of “Barbara Allen.”

Her rendition of “Railroad Boy” starts a capella before the instruments introduce a challengingly complex rhythm. It’s a brave way to begin a disc of traditional material. She takes on a Gaelic tune, “Fhear A Bhata,” to close. But the true gem on this record is “Geordie.” The interplay between the strings (guest Patrick Dunn provides a viola), vocal improvisation, a bluesy guitar solo, and a rollicking piano line makes for a chill-inducing centerpiece.

—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)

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One comment on “Eeep! EP reviews: My Cousin the Emperor, The Subway EPs; and Sara Banleigh, The Folk EP

  1. […] a couple EPs. Really happy to have heard the My Cousin the […]

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