The Boston Phoenix described indie-folk act Leland Sundries as “The Band meets Lou Reed,” and as intriguing a prospect as that is (I have to suppress an image of Reed and Levon Helm in the back of a barn getting sloshed on moonshine), it doesn’t quite tell the whole story.
Yes, on their debut EP “The Apothecary” (L’Echiquier Records), out this week, lead singer/songwriter Nick Loss-Eaton’s vocals do evoke Reed’s trademark mid-register delivery, and the band is certainly steeped in Band-worthy Americana, to such a technically proficient and historically reverent degree that it’s hard to believe they’re a bunch of young guys from Brooklyn.
But they also have a wry lyrical bent and atmospheric vibe that belies the description — it might be equally accurate to describe them as Leonard Cohen by way of Uncle Tupelo. Or maybe to just dispense with the comparisons, and give them credit for being a wholly original outfit that just released one of the most exciting musical debuts of the year.
If you’re of the opinion that an EP release usually means the artist ran out of steam after a few tracks, you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised by “The Apothecary.” Its five songs cover a great deal of emotional and lyrical ground — it’s melancholy, funny, romantic, fresh and nostalgic, sometimes all at once.
“Well I’ve been cooking eggs and cryin’ … Is this the best thing for me to do?” Loss-Eaton wonders on “Elegy,” an accordion-wrapped tale of dead friends and spinning windmills that isn’t elegiac so much as resolute. It’s no surprise to hear that Loss-Eaton cites novelist Richard Russo as an influence — Russo’s sprawling, detail-driven warts-and-all paeans to small-town life are reflected in Leland Sundries’ literate, unhurried delivery.
Later, on “Hey Self Defeater,” a jangly guitar and Loss-Eaton’s resonant harmonica — he apparently writes most of his songs on one — propel his juxtapositions of circuses, wobbly-gaited girls and “spaces and alleys where no one’s ever been.” The result is actually anything but self-defeating; Leland Sundries’ characters may be adrift, but they make you want to pull up next to them at their campfire and share a flask.
For the debut of a band that’s only been around for a year, “The Apothecary” is amazingly fully formed; all that’s missing is a side two. The band may want to get on that — what the world needs now is a full-length LP from folk singers who seem to be living in the same twisty, complicated world as the folks they’re singing about.
Leland Sundries’ fall tour kicks off Oct. 9 at Sally O’Brien’s in Somerville, Mass. For a complete itinerary, visit lelandsundries.com/shows. Download a free mp3 of their song “Oh My Sweet Cantankerous Baby” at their website.