The Upshot: Six-song mini-album charts country soul introspection and virtuoso musicianship.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
The desolate and the uplifting jostle elbows in Monk Parker’s Crown of Sparrows, a clutch of six songs written in roughly the same time frame as his last solo album, How the Spark Loves the Tinder. Parker made these songs at home, while recovering from a serious illness, and you can certainly trace elements of that experience — feverish unreality, fluttering uncertainty and longing and the gradual gathering of strength and hope — in these shadowy compositions. Parker’s voice rises like a flicker amid sweeping spectral washes, as he considers love, memory, mortality and forgiveness in these tunes; he is sheathed in echoey insubstantiality, but bolstered, often, towards the end, by a swell of brass that buoys him to conclusion.
A plurality of these songs move in molasses tempo’d waltz time, their pulse more of a lilting caress than any invitation to dance. “Crown of Sparrows,” the opener, worries at the ephemerality of existence with a lament in pedal steel, “This crown of sparrows was never going to stay…every sweet thing flowed away.” And yet though pensive, the song takes on muscle and bone at its midpoint with a giant crash of feedback, big battering drums, slow, swaggering wallops of horns, all erupting in a woozy glory.
Parker’s work here has the same haunted, inward-peering reverberation as his songs with the ought’s gothic Low Lows and before that Parker & Lily, but it is augmented with a cast of roughly 30 musicians, a rough country orchestra of guitars, brass, keyboards and reeds that lifts these introspective tunes into grand, exultant crescendos. The culmination comes in “Drowned Men,” whose mournful textures take on the density and joy of certain classic soul tunes (I’m thinking O.V. Wright’s “Drowning on Dry Land”), as a swaying, rollicking, band of ruffians fills in the anguished spaces with something like triumph.
DOWNLOAD: “Crown of Sparrows” “Drowned Men”