The Boston Phoenix described indie-folk act Leland Sundries as â€œThe Band meets Lou Reed,â€ 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 doesnâ€™t quite tell the whole story.
Yes, on their debut EP â€œThe Apothecaryâ€ (Lâ€™Echiquier Records), out this week, lead singer/songwriter Nick Loss-Eatonâ€™s vocals do evoke Reedâ€™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 itâ€™s hard to believe theyâ€™re a bunch of young guys from Brooklyn.
But they also have a wry lyrical bent and atmospheric vibe that belies the description â€” 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 youâ€™re of the opinion that an EP release usually means the artist ran out of steam after a few tracks, youâ€™ll be more than pleasantly surprised by â€œThe Apothecary.â€ Its five songs cover a great deal of emotional and lyrical ground â€” itâ€™s melancholy, funny, romantic, fresh and nostalgic, sometimes all at once.
â€œWell Iâ€™ve been cooking eggs and cryinâ€™ â€¦ Is this the best thing for me to do?â€ Loss-Eaton wonders on â€œElegy,â€ an accordion-wrapped tale of dead friends and spinning windmills that isnâ€™t elegiac so much as resolute. Itâ€™s no surprise to hear that Loss-Eaton cites novelist Richard Russo as an influence â€” Russoâ€™s sprawling, detail-driven warts-and-all paeans to small-town life are reflected in Leland Sundriesâ€™ literate, unhurried delivery.
Later, on â€œHey Self Defeater,â€ a jangly guitar and Loss-Eatonâ€™s resonant harmonica â€” he apparently writes most of his songs on one â€” propel his juxtapositions of circuses, wobbly-gaited girls and â€œspaces and alleys where no oneâ€™s ever been.â€ The result is actually anything but self-defeating; Leland Sundriesâ€™ 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 thatâ€™s only been around for a year, â€œThe Apothecaryâ€ is amazingly fully formed; all thatâ€™s missing is a side two. The band may want to get on that â€” 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 theyâ€™re singing about.
Leland Sundriesâ€™ fall tour kicks off Oct. 9 at Sally Oâ€™Brienâ€™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.