Some artists are more than content to safely chase after the populist sound of their genre when creating their first album, but for Sarah Parker that simply wasn’t an option. Her debut, Strawberry Moon, is comprised of intimate stories and personal confessions strung together by a seductive country rhythm that is riddled with a familiar honky tonk groove but decidedly different than anything her contemporaries have produced in recent years. Opening with the yearning balladry of “Sugartown” and the bristle of the highway-drifter “29 South,” it doesn’t take long for Parker to demonstrate why she’s risen to the attention of so many critics both in and outside of the Nashville establishment, and why Strawberry Moon is widely being considered one of the most evocative breakthrough albums of 2018.
Nothing about this record, whether it be the music, lyrics or production quality, feels forced or artificially constructed. Songs like the sly “I Got to Wander,” the soothing title track and the grassy “Keep on Movin’ (The Train Song)” are too imaginative and unique to qualify as predictable country record fodder. In all three of these songs, Parker spreads out the melodies and invokes elements of folk, country, bluegrass and even soft pop without ever blurring the meaning behind the sumptuous verses she’s letting go with a classy confidence. On paper a track like the self-explanatory “Lonely Highway” might conflict with the blistering abandon of “Straight from the Bottle,” but in this situation the pair complement each other excellently and tie together the larger retrospective narrative of the album.
Parker’s voice is gentle and inviting in some of Strawberry Moon’s more relaxed moments like “Home” and the simplistic “Road to Your Discovery,” but introspective and elegiac in others like the bluesy “Rose Hill” and the hypnotizing “Gypsy Rose.” In a lot of ways she reminds me of Jewel at her stylistic peak in the 90s, and at the same time her work is so much more vibrant and rich with echoing harmonies that linger long after the music stops playing. “Talk in This Town” has all the makings of a pop/rock anthem, but when punctuated with a sizzling lap steel it becomes a humble, homespun story unearthed from the heart of Dixie. I’m not the biggest country fan in the world, but you’d have to be crazy not to appreciate the compositional sophistication of Strawberry Moon and its fourteen dazzling tracks.
Whether you’re a diehard disciple of the Nashville scene or are only a casual consumer of America’s most spirited genre of roots music I highly recommend giving Sarah Parker’s new album Strawberry Moon a spin this winter. In the song “Even When You’re Lonely,” one of the more spectacular bits of the record, there’s a moment where Parker’s voice and the melody of her backing band become indiscernible from one another in a harmony that is soulful, stirring and completely unexpected. If this is just a glimpse into what we can expect out of her future work in the studio then I’ll be eagerly awaiting the arrival of her sophomore release in the near future.
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