Sarah Parker - Strawberry Moon
Sarah Parker’s Strawberry Moon has such glaring quality that it is sure to expand the Buffalo, New York based singer/songwriter’s profile. Her nuanced character studies utilize familiar tropes from the long history of roots music, but her lyrical acumen elevates these familiar elements and stamps them with a signature and often near literary stylishness. The opener “Sugar Town” is vividly illustrative of that. Like the bulk of the album, Parker’s songwriting is focused and economical with this song, definitely reflecting her country and roots influences, but the lyrical content reveals a deeper sensibility at work. The first person point of view driving the words is particularly effective and Parker delivers the narrative, as it is, with equal parts musicality and emotional exploration of character and situation.
The striding piano lines running through “29 South” complement the drumming with their own urgent percussive quality, but nothing is ever pushed too hard through the course of the song. Instead, Parker and her collaborators strike just the right balance between Americana “soul” and physicality to invoke the feeling of fleeing from one’s troubles and past along a familiar highway. Parker’s vocals are very much part of a tradition, but never imitative. The album’s first genuine ballad “You Can’t Tell a Heart” has some tasteful organ work swelling out from the mix and Parker tempers her already sensitive vocal approach to draw all the necessary emotion out from the piece. The lyrics may hit some as overly familiar, but I found her conversational style to be quite relatable and the everyday language and imagery makes it very relatable.
The title “Even When You’re Lonely” seems to imply we might be in store for another ballad turn, but Parker goes in a different direction with a breezy mid-tempo number distinguished by its strong rhythm section swing. The chorus is, arguably, the album’s strongest yet. “I Got To Wander” reins in the album’s more modern impulses in favor of its most rootsy moment yet and the mandolin accompanying the musical attack makes it all the more effective. It has a nicely swirling quality throughout. The title song is, obviously, one of the album’s centerpieces and Parker stretches her songwriting to accommodate it. It pays off. She develops the song in a much more condensed fashion than even the well written efforts preceding and following it, reaching a peak with its thoughtful and deeply felt chorus. It is one of the album’s poetic, yet plain-spoken, highlights.
“Rose Hill” is another of the album’s superb examinations of character and place. It has a slow-burning spirit and Parker matches the moment with a particularly bluesy vocal, but the best character study on the release arrives with the track “Gypsy Rose”. As with such songs, however, the lyrics say just as much, if not more, about Parker as they do about any character she creates or summons from memory. The album’s longest song and penultimate tune, “Lonely Highway”, incorporates some strong organ playing into Parker’s largest musical canvas yet. She fills it with vivid color, yet her painterly approach to the song demonstrates tremendous finesse and never risks sounding overwrought. Sarah Parker’s Strawberry Moon is one of the most fully realized releases in an Americana/classic country vein I’ve heard in years and establishes her as one of the form’s foremost practitioners.