Ashley Monroe - Sparrow
On her fourth album, Ashley Monroe has pushed herself to go a little further than previously, and that despite the quality of her last record. Recruiting Dave Cobb is a canny move, and the producer de jour of Nashville brings all his expertise to add layers of sounds to Monroe's wonderful vocals. Sparrow is such a well-rounded set of songs that it's tough to know where to start. As well as Cobb on production duties, the list of songwriters covers established Nashville hitmakers (Jon Randall, Brendan Benson), pals (Angaleena Presley) and newcomers (Kassi Ashton), that all have one thing in common, they're talented. Immensely so.
Right from opener 'Orphan' the sound is full and lush, with Monroe's voice anchoring things, and the lyrics devastatingly real and poignant. The strings on 'Hard On A Heart' are stunning, the opening line of 'Hands On You' is beautifully judged, and 'Wild Love' has a freedom and playfulness, with a killer melody and more perfect use of the string section. And man, that string section adds an unbelievable amount to the record.
The songs are a mix of longing, and of reflection, each track playing to the Tennessean's strength of voice, both literal and lyrical. At times they sound like you've heard them before, as with 'Rita', but you haven't, they just have a timelessness to them. Littered with gorgeous melodies and dripping with atmosphere and feeling, 'This Heaven' and 'Paying Attention' are songs of longing, while 'I'm Trying Too' deals with trying to forget, Sparrow is a record you have to hear to understand.