The Subway Recordings

Susan Cagle

Lefthook/Columbia, 2006

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Okay, so this one cheats on the whole "Indie Friday" premise a bit. Susan Cagle *was* an indie performer -- about as indie as you can get, performing and recording in New York City train stations -- until her recent signing with Columbia. But since these are the very same indie recordings that got her signed, complete with ambient crowd noise and trains rolling by mid-song, we're going to treat it as an indie.

The Subway Recordings finds Cagle joined by a backing group that puts the truth to the name of Robert Randolph's "Family Band" -- Jesse Cagle on guitar, Caroline Cagle on bass and backing vocals, and John Cagle on drums, with Mark McLean sitting in on drums for the last four tracks. As the liner notes explain, the first six tracks were recorded at Times Square station during rush hour; the last four at Grand Central Station late at night.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The music is, to state the obvious, unpolished, free of studio artifice or trickery. What you're left with, then, is the naked truth of Cagle's stunning voice and crisp, jangly melodies. Working in the perceptive, light-rocking singer-songwriter vein of a Jewel or a Jill Knight, Cagle hits the bullseye with appealing cuts like the ringing "Shakespeare" and the steady-rocking "You Know."

What sets her apart is not so much the quality of her lyrics -- though songs like "Manhattan Cowboy" and "Transitional" offer some nice twists and detail -- as the sheer power and sureness of her voice. The closing stanzas of "Stay" find her pleading softly, then fiercely, the gently again to a departing lover in tones rich with emotion and nuance. Mid-tempo closer "Ask Me" channels Sheryl Crow for three minutes before Cagle's voice lifts the song to the next level.

What The Subway Recordings lack -- as they would almost have to, given the setting -- is much variation in sound or arrangements. As a result, the songs tend to blend together into one long tumbling rush of chiming guitars and soaring vocals, punctuated only by the ambient sounds cropping up in the background whenever the rhythm section falls back.

Which, in its own way, only further underscores the mesmerizing power of Cagle's voice. In those moments when you catch the sounds of her audience clapping along, it's hard not to get swept up with them. You might be surprised to hear of Columbia distributing bootlegs of a subway busker -- but you won't once you hear her sing.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2006 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Lefthook/Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.