We come across no shortage of innovation on these pages, Cambridge steam punk/jazz/folk/indie outfit Sunday Driver have delighted fans and live audiences for over ten years with a string of contrasting releases that seem to draw on countless influences and fuse them into a wholly new and original sound each time. Their first full album in 2008, In The City of Dreadful Night, was every bit as dark, sexy and mind-altering as the title suggests. In 2012 The Mutiny brought a richer, slicker sound, and even more of the Indian influences that peppered the intervening years. The Mutiny also resulted in the startled attention of a far wider press covering. The onset of spring sees the release of their new mini-album – Flo. This time around, Sunday Driver have brought their Eastern influences very much to the fore; shrugged off (for now, anyway) the darkest of their Victorian street credentials and produced a collection of songs steeped in Indian traditions.
A combination of traditional and devotional songs from the south of India make up the majority of what was recorded for Flo. Lead singer and founder Chandy has described the title track itself as a melody that recalls childhood musical influences. Inspired by a lullaby from Burma, the song hides an abundance of inspiration beneath its simple guitar/vocal exterior.
A guest appearance by Cellist Geoff Williams has gone a long way towards creating this alternative sound. Similarly, the contribution made by the addition of Kuljit Bhamra on Tabla has been immense. His tabla duetting with Chandy’s vocals on the opening track, Tandanaana, almost seems to turn the Indian vocal tradition of Konnokol on its head; with the percussion reacting to not only the vocal (rather than a vocalized percussion, as in Konnokol), but also with the harp accompaniment. Tandanaana is a stirring and energizing start to the EP, placing Sunday Driver’s unique stamp on 15th Century Hindu devotional poetry.
While listening to Flo for the first time I thought I was imagining an echo of Spaghetti Western. Then I read the publicity material and this quote from Chandy
“I’d been watching and rewatching the classic Sergio Leone ‘Dollars Trilogy’ westerns, soaking up the atmosphere created by Ennio Morricone’s legendary soundtracks. I don’t imagine it will be apparent to anyone else listening to the EP, but the general ambience of the tracks definitely owes something to those movies.”
This surprising influence comes across clearly in the Kannada love song, Namoora Dhariya, where the dramatic tones in the vocal and guitar evoke a hot western noon.
Sweet vocals and tabla predominate in Tarakka Bindi, from the same region. Once again Kuljit Bhamra’s contribution is flawless and perfectly complements not only the vocal but the dreamy cello making its appearance towards the end of the track. Although a diminutive two minutes in length, the listener’s left with the distinct impression that tabla and cello could have easily enjoyed a far more extensive adventure together before the ghostly segue into Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma.
In Om Ganeshaya Namaha the flavour is initially far more traditional, with the introduction of James Clayton’s languid sitar; this prayer to Ganesha also enjoys a warm guitar/ harp combination with a distinct 70’s flavour.
The closing Holelu seems to owe as much to the multi-faceted Jewish diaspora as it does the Egyptian muezzin calls cited as inspiration by Chandy.
Until Flo arrived I’d never heard Sunday Driver. I was eager to learn more and I suspect the fact that I found it difficult to marry the Steam Punk identity with what I’m enjoying (and enjoying immensely) on this EP points to what can happen when pre-conception gets in the way of an open mind. And especially, what can happen when such a wealth of creative talent decides that once they’re let loose in the studio, they’ll take everything they’ve learned, and developed over the years, and apply it to a rich new vein of inspiration. The result is breath-taking.
Sunday driver (Chandy Nath Vocals / Guitar; Richard Bullen Bass / Backing Vocals; Simon Richardson Guitar; James Clayton Sitar / Guitar; Kat Arney Harp / Clarinet / Percussion; Scott Jowett Percussion) and their guests (Kuljit / Bhamra Tabla; Geoff Williams / Cello; Clive Brooks / Percussion) have crafted an addictive fusion of indie, jazz and traditional music from the sub-continent that’s every bit as powerful as it is infectious. After listening to the online samples from their earlier recordings, I’m eager to find out in detail what I’ve been missing for the least ten years.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Check them out here: http://www.sundaydriver.co.uk/