Warner Music Nashville
Honest, Classy, Contemporary and Heart-string Tugging Album.
It’s odd how you have mixed emotions when your ‘favourite artists’ actually do become Stars. Of course you are happy for their success, but there’s always a tiny bit of …..jealousy (?) …. that burns away because you still want them to be yours, and yours alone.
I feel a bit like that with Ashley Monroe; first discovering her when I bought the Pistol Annies first album and subsequently reviewed The Rose for a magazine. OK, in the USA she was probably already a ‘Star’ by then but in the UK she was still relatively unknown and songs from both albums were regularly featured on my old radio show.
I somehow missed the follow up album The Blade when it first came out; probably because I’d fallen out of favour in magazine land and hadn’t quite gone solo; but things move on and SPARROW has been a regular soundtrack to our evening meals over the last couple of weeks and it’s always a good sign if Mrs. Magpie asks for an album as we sit reading the Sunday newspapers.
If I’m being perfectly honest I was initially disappointed when I heard opening track Orphan; as the big orchestral production, while crystal clear and highlighting Ashley’s pure voice sounds not unlike most other big name Nashville female singers these days; but now Mrs. Magpie has forced a sensory overload……I’ve been won over.
There’s a sense of perfection in Dave Cobb’s production; but why should that be a bad thing? It isn’t. Ashley’s introspective story using the ubiquitous but clever and hard-working Sparrow as a metaphor for her own life is really very clever and beautiful in equal measures.
One thing is for sure Ashley Monroe’s songwriting is a lot more mature and even eloquent than those early albums; with Mother’s Daughter catching me unawares and brought a tear to my eye as I got to thinking about my own Mother whom I think of in similar loving tones and Daddy I Told You follows a similar openly honest path and even has Dolly’s shadow cast across it if you listen carefully.
Impending Motherhood sounds like it may have had a hand in the emotions we hear during Hard On a Heart and the bittersweet ballad This Heaven; or perhaps I’m reading too much into the emotional way Ashley delivers her words.
There’s a big part of me denies that this is a Country Album; I can’t get my head around that but with songs like Wild Love and Mrs. Magpie’s favourite song the sensuous Hands on You; genres don’t matter…..this is just Classy Music that defies genre…..and that’s a good thing.
My own favourite track is a bit left of centre by this album’s standards, as Keys to the Kingdom which closes the record is quite Rootsy and painfully raw at times, which is just how I like my singer-songwriters; and when the string section finally come in it’s like a dessert wind and closes proceedings just perfectly.
SPARROW is wonderful concept from Ashley Monroe, carefully and shrewdly steering her away from the Pop-Rock that is the norm in Nashville these days and concentrating not just her marvelous singing voice but her rather excellent songwriting too.
I expect this album to surpass the Grammy Nominations of recent years too.
Released April 20th 2018