Ashley Monroe’s new album ‘Sparrow’ was released on Friday and the Belles and Gals team have got together to write an ‘in the round’ review, where several team members get together and write about a particular song that is close to their heart. Here’s our look at ‘Sparrow’!
Wild Love – Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)
Sitting slap bang in the middle of the album’s track-listing, this is one of the songs that was made available pre-release and it’s easy to understand why as it’s a sensual gem and one of the catchier ( dare i say more commercial?) tracks.
An Ashley co-write with Waylon Payne and Brendon Benson (the trio also collaborated on “Paying Attention”, Benson also cowriting on “Mayflowers” from “The Blade” ) it was apparently inspired by her first visit to London, during which Ashley says she felt “alive and a hunger to be wild”.
The lyrics echo these feelings, which she describe as being “dangerous” in the opening lines. She longs for the type of love that will “take over me and I’ll never be the same”, for “a stranger to pull my hair and call my name, take me home and make me feel alive again”. It’s not London but a different European city that gets a mention in this write, I guess Barcelona just scanned better when she sings “ Wild love, wash over me like Barcelona rain”! You can hear the ache and desire in Ashley’s vocals, which interpret the lyrics to perfection. My one criticism is my personal dislike of the male backing vocals which I find a bit out of place and too macho!
This mid-tempo track is of course given beautiful production by Dave Cobb, including sweeping strings that are a particular feature throughout “Sparrow”. It has a “spaghetti western” feel, too, thanks largely to a rhythm section that is reminiscent of horses hooves and the guitar at the very end. This is followed through in the desert-themed video.
Daddy I Told You – Shannon Hynes (twitter.com/s_hynesmusic)
‘Daddy, I Told You’ the most vulnerable and sentimental track on ‘Sparrow’, is a nostalgic tribute to Monroe’s father, whom she devastatingly lost at the tender age of 13 years old. Following suit with the album, as in promoting strength and healing, this song, describes feelings of Ashley coming to terms with the loss and finding strength in pain, ‘Just like you I got a lot in my heart/ It won’t let me fall apart.’ Throughout her career, the fact she has suffered insistently with this has been no secret. The instrumentation gives the track a heartfelt, melancholy feel. Led by the easy listening structure of the keys, a counter guitar and choral harmonies, you could say the song is a laid back ballad, except without all the glitz and glamour, that would usually hide the truthful meaning of the story. ‘Daddy I Told You’ derives from deep within Monroe’s soul and it’s important we hear what she has to say. It’s these kind’s of songs, which I must say are not sparse on ‘Sparrow’, but they sure do remind us of Monroe’s deeply passionate, personal and gloriously intense songwriting.
Hard on a Heart – Nick Cantwell (twitter.com/nickbelles_gals)
For a long time I’ve had the opinion that Ashley Monroe has possibly the best voice in country music – and listening to ‘Sparrow’, Ashley has done absolutely nothing to change my mind. The track I have chosen is ‘Hard on a Heart’, which is not the usual country fare from the singer, in fact in some ways it has an almost pop/disco feel, with strings playing a leading role in accompanying that sumptuous voice. The song sees the singer in conversation with her heart, apologising for the pain she has put it through. The opening lyrics set the tone for the song – ‘Heart, don’t give up on me now, We’ve got a long way to go, I know we’ve put in some miles, me and you, But I can still see the road’. The song is about the pain and the scars of love and the theme does remind me of Ashley’s close friend Miranda Lambert’s ‘Tin Man’, especially when she ends the song with ‘I’m startin’ to think most everything is, Hard on a heart’.
I’m Trying To – Mike Ross (twitter.com/rossmike15)
As part of choosing a song for the Belles and Gals “In the Round” reviews, I like to go through the full
album several times, paying attention to the flow of the songs along the way and how one song ties into
the rest. With Ashley Monroe’s newest album, Sparrow, I found myself getting caught up in not just the
storyline, but also the subtleties of the lyrics. “I’m Trying To” is a perfect example of this.
Simple, elegant, and heart wrenching. Intertwining “I’m trying to” with “I’m trying, too,” Ashley deftly
moves from one’s own efforts to work through challenges in a partnership to the recognition of efforts
being made by the other. In two short verses, the listener is guided from the first appearance of
difficulties in a relationship to the emotional bombshell of realizing the futility of trying to save
something that has been irreparably damaged.
“How long do you try before you let it die” will resonate with anyone who has battled to save a
relationship, and “If only all this trying made it so” is equally relatable. The more I listen to “I’m Trying
To,” with its simple instrumental backdrop framing Ashley’s piercing vocals, the more deeply it’s felt.
Tying it into the balance of the album, you have a perfect soundtrack for a night of drinking and