The Cornshed Sisters

Honey & Tar

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Employing a mellifluous blend of arresting four-part harmony-driven folk and crafty, left-field indie pop, the sophomore effort from the Sunderland quartet draws from a wide array of styles and artists, from the bucolic English folk of the Unthanks to the heady indie rock of fellow North East Englanders Field Music. It's the latter group's pop acumen that looms largest, which makes sense as FM's David Brewis produced the album and is married to Cornshed Sister Jennie Brewis, but for the most part, Honey & Tar has its own singular vibe. Having four talented singer/songwriters in the same group should be problematic, but Brewis, Cath Stephens, Liz Corney, and Marie Nixon vibrate on the same wavelength, both tonally and lyrically -- these are intricate yet undeniably homey songs about love, motherhood, friendship, and feminism. Clever but always sympathetic vocal arrangements abound, especially on the album's more reflective numbers like the lush and lovely "Sunday Best/Small Spaces" and the equally dulcet "Holding On," but it's when the Sisters shore up those sonorous sounds with a full arsenal of studio weaponry that things get really compelling. Where their 2012 debut leaned more toward the folk side of the spectrum, songs like "The Message," "Black and White," "Running," and "Show Me" are spilling over with the kind of pop smarts befitting a band from a region that spawned artists like Bryan Ferry, Dave Stewart, the Toy Dolls, and the Futureheads -- they find some middle ground between the two persuasions on the jaunty and vaudevillian "Jobs for the Boys" and "Variety." Impressive pop proclivities aside, Honey & Tar works because the songs are good and the performances are superb, and that the production is in service of both is just the icing on the cake.

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