When I first heard some clips of Susan Cagle's new CD, I knew immediately that I liked it and also that it was going to be a challenge to describe why I like it. Is it the premise (recording an album in an NYC subway station)? Is it the arrangement (female vocals and a full band)? Is it the genre (pop/rock)? Most likely, it's a combination of all of those things and then some.
The Subway Recordings was released on Tuesday, and I have had my review copy for about a month. Even in all that time, I have not been able get beyond how much I connect with the music to write about it. I hoped to have something done early this week, but as you can see, it didn't happen.
Susan Cagle grew up in a family of musicians, but it was not until she moved to New York that she started performing on her own. Then 9/11 happened. Afterwards, she decided to play in the subways for anyone who would listen. This was where producer Jay Levine discovered her and where they decided to record her Lefthook/Columbia Records debut.
The first six tracks were recorded live at Times Square Station during rush hour. The last four tracks came from late at night in Grand Central Station. The sound of these recordings truly captures the feel of a live performance in an echoing train station. Underneath the music is a constant buzz of people and trains that becomes noticeable only in the quieter parts.
The recording kicks off with a crowdpleaser, "Shakespeare." The song's chorus comes from the questions that Cagle likes to ask of new acquaintances: "Do you like Shakespeare? Jeff Buckley? Watching movies on Sunday?" The hooky lead guitar and driving bass move the song forward with the sense of anticipation and excitement that fit the lyrics. The rest of the band is made up of two of Cagle's brothers and a sister, and it's their contributions that flesh out the songs and provide an extra bit of oomph that takes them out of the singer/songwriter box.