"Will the Circle be Unbroken" sets the tone: hushed acoustic guitar chords and a voice that owes everything to Will Oldham. What keeps the tune interesting, and saves it from mere wanna-be status, is the jarring, howling guitar/synthesizer distortion that kicks in around 1:24. It never drowns out the singer, but it provides a bracing accompaniment that, along with the handclaps around 2:00, keeps you coming back to it.
If the dood behind the Miami didn't first hear "Barbed Wire" on Chumbawumba's English Rebel Songs LP, I'll eat my hat (but I don't wear hats! Ha!). The deadpan tone the singer takes gives the song a completely different ambience than Chumba's version. Chumba definitely nailed it as far as versions that weren't recorded in the World War I trenches go, but still, The Miami's version is pretty good; in fact, most people will probably prefer this version to 'Wumba's.
"Motherless Child"'s first three minutes are composed of freeform ambient shivers, quakes, and hovering, glancing apparitions comin' atcha outta the mist. Eventually it turns into an a capella take on the old Paul Robeson hymn. There's all sorts of problems involved in adopting a Paul Robeson song to fit onto an indie EP, which I'll let the reader/listener sort out for his/herself. It's audacious, I'll give The Miami that. "Kneebone" would be great party music if it was 1830: handclaps and tambourines introduce a call-and-response song with minimal guitar to keep a rhythm. It works in a very idiosyncratic sorta way.
That's my verdict on the album as a whole: some of it works, some of it doesn't, but The Miami is defiantly doing its own thing on this EP, which I respect. There's enough historical allusions packed into it to keep history geeks like myself busy for quite awhile; buy it for that reason a lone, after listening to it, here. Brought to you c/o Prison Art Rex.