Sugarplum Fairies — Country International Records

Reviewed by aarik

Words like gorgeous, hypnotic, sultry and dulcet describe but do little justice to the distinct vocal presence exhibited by Silvia Ryder, one half of the Viennese duo Sugarplum Fairies. Ryder’s exquisite voice, the aural equivalent of plush velvet, drives the ten songs that make up Country International Records, an album that is one of this year’s hidden gems. Ryder’s ability is matched only by the skill her creative partner Ben Bohm (guitar, backing vocals) displays in providing the ideal setting for her vocals to stand out.

Augmented by the inspired contributions of guests including percussionist/co-producer Ken Coomer (formerly of Wilco) and keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden (Sixpence None the Richer), Ryder and Bohm create a sound that manages to be both undemanding and lush. Fuzzy electric guitars, clean acoustic tones, strings, keys and horns unite to aid Sugarplum Fairies in effortlessly blending a wealth of influences including European guitar pop, American folk and the shoe gazer sound perfected by bands like Mazzy Star.

The set of songs on Country International Records range from plucky kiss-offs (see “Velcro Girl” on which Ryder sings “I remember you sold me the world and you promised the tables would turn/But now you’re stuck with velcro girl) to lilting ballads (“First Love, Last Rites”, “Polyester Poetry”). “I’m Just Fine” highlights Coomer’s excellent percussion work while “When You’re Mean” benefits greatly from its arrangement, featuring accordion and horn. The album closes with a breathy, ambient cover of U2’s “All I Want Is You” that fits nicely with the group’s original work.

With only 32 minutes worth of material, Ryder, Bohm and friends do a marvelous job of fashioning such a rich atmosphere while never giving in to the temptation to overdo things. Sweet, succinct and sparkling, Country International Records is a work that is truly engaging on many levels.

Oct 13 2006