CD Review of Country International Records by Sugarplum Fairies

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Country International Records
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Released: 2006
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The sugarplum has had a pretty good ride in the public eye, thanks to that whole “visions of sugarplums danced in their heads” line from “Twas The Night Before Christmas.” Its association with music and fairies, however, really entered the world of music when, while recording the demo for “A Day in the Life,” instead of doing a proper 1-2-3-4 count-in, John Lennon repeated the phrase, “Sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy.” Hard to know what he was on about, but, then, that’s one of the things you loved about John Lennon; you never knew what he was on about.

These Sugarplum Fairies, well, frankly, you can’t readily deduce where they’re coming from, either. (Well, not creatively, anyway; physically, they’re from Vienna.) Their first album was mysteriously entitled Introspective Raincoat Student Music – which, oddly enough, did a pretty good job of summarizing its contents – and this sophomore effort has been tagged Country International Records, which sounds far more like the name of a label than of an album; after giving it a few spins, however, you begin to realize that this title is a pretty accurate one as well.

People too often think of country music as being a uniquely Southern concept, but, you know, people in other countries buy Patsy Cline records, too…and the fact that these International Records were recorded in Nashville and co-produced by Ken Coomer, of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, certainly ups its alt-country credibility. Musically speaking, everything here wouldn’t readily fall into the genre of country or even Americana – “Velcro Girl” is propelled more by fuzz guitar than lap steel, and the trumpet that shines on “When You’re Mean” has an almost Bacharachian feel – but as far as the feel, there’s a melancholy that’s reminiscent of Emmylou Harris or the Cowboy Junkies. (Lead singer Silvia Ryder sounds particularly reminiscent of Margo Timmins on songs like opener “Villain of the Day” and “Not Smart At All.”) If you can imagine a blend of Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star and the Velvet Underground’s Nico with a less raspy voice, that’s very much where Ryder’s vocal style lies.

Country International Records closes with a sublime version of U2’s “All I Want Is You,” and it’s a perfect choice. The feel matches the rest of the album and, though it’s a relatively familiar song, it approximates the atmosphere of songs that preceded it so well that you almost forget it’s not a Sugarplum Fairies original. High praise, to be certain.

~Will Harris