Ferris & Sylvester (from the EP I Should Be on a Train available on LAB Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
It's fair to say that the future looks very bright for English music duo Ferris & Sylvester. Since meeting four years ago in London's Spiritual Bar Blues club, the duo have headlined shows in the UK and Ireland, debuted at both Glastonbury and Nashville’s AmericanaFest, and shared stages with Robert Plant and Eric Clapton. Rolling Stone magazine picked the pair as an act to look out for and, on this side of the pond, they have scooped an Emerging Artist Award at the UK Americana Awards, the latter selected by no less than Bob Harris. For British music lovers such as myself, an endorsement from 'whispering' Bob Harris is a thing to take note of. Harris, who will perhaps always be most famous for presenting the much-loved Old Grey Whistle Test, describes Ferris & Sylvester as ‘a rising force in British music [with] a sound that is absolutely unique’. Their promise to deliver 60’s Greenwich Village sounds mixed with hard Blues is certainly intriguing. I Should Be on a Train is Ferris & Sylvester’s second EP, paving the way for a planned full-length album to come.
So what can one expect from the five tracks on offer here? A few seconds of the opener and title track should be enough to convince you that this is a class act. Issy Ferris' voice is worth the price of admission alone; wistful and warm, equally effective on the laidback opening as on the harder-rocking chorus. The production is crisp and slick, with spacey studio effects and a big classic sound straight out of 1970’s Pink Floyd's playbook. I can understand why humble journalists such as myself have trouble pigeonholing the duo. At its core, this is essentially sweet Folk in the vein of Judy Collins or Sandy Dennis but there is a whole lot of other influences creeping in. You can hear subtle touches of late-period T-Rex theatrics and warm-hard tones. T-Rex themselves, of course, started off much more Folk-orientated. There's also more than a modicum of Classic Rock thrown in, something of the 1980’s power-ballad. Altogether, it does work remarkably well. You have to wonder, if Ferris & Sylvester had been even a hair's-breadth less talented, if they would have found a home for such an unusual brew. Talented they are, though, and although the music here sounds fresh, it is possessed of an unmistakably commercial sensibility, in the same manner that Fairport Convention presented their blend of old and new. That in itself is no mean feat.
“Knock You Down” adds some soft psychedelic tones to the mix. The songwriting and arrangements really are first class, twisting on a six-pence from rolling bucolic vistas to dark valleys and soaring skies. This is ambitious, well-crafted music. Like The Beatles (more on them later), Ferris & Sylvester make the complex and adventurous sound easy and easily digestible. “Everyone Is Home” drifts over hand-percussion and acoustic guitar before gradually evolving into a fun Blues-Country number. “Good Man” rumbles through an opening salvo of edgy, swirling guitar reminiscent of U2, with rattling drums and menacing undertones. Before you get too settled, though, the duo throw in some Eastern scales, step to the side, and launch into bombastic Queen-ish melodrama. It is hugely enjoyable. You can easily imagine Robert Plant sitting up and taking notice.
A cover of the aforementioned Beatles “With A Little Help from My Friends” closes I Should Be on a Train. Taken here at a slightly slower tempo, this is one time that Ferris & Sylvester don't pull off any surprises, though it must be noted that this is certainly deliberate. Rather than transform the track, they simply play it relatively straight, and they play it very, very well.
It remains to be seen if Ferris & Sylvester will fulfil their early promise and live up to the plaudits with their full-length debut, but I wouldn't bet against it. They have the tools and invention to hit the heights and stay there for a good while. (by Chris Wheatley)
Listen and buy the music of Ferris & Sylvester from AMAZON
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