Album Review – Ashley Monroe’s “Sparrow”
Barring a miracle from Country Music Jesus, Ashley Monroe will never see the kind of career recognition that her talents deserve, at least in the here and now. That’s just the unfortunate product of the era in which her music matured. Even with a major label backing her efforts, even with big name recognition bestowed from her participation in The Pistol Annies, and even with widespread critical acclaim for her music and praise from her peers, there’s only a few precious slots for women to fill in this period of country music history, and Ashley Monroe will apparently not be one of the select few tapped to participate. These are the real world results of the lack of support for women in country music today.
As a songwriter and singer, and even when taking into consideration the shallow measurements of beauty and celebrity buzz (she’s married to a professional baseball player), Ashley Monroe has all the potential, and everything pointed in the right direction to be a successful mainstream star, and still has failed to see a song crack the Top 35 in the charts. When it comes to the sales for her latest album Sparrow, it could barely manage more than a whimper. It debuted with just under 5,000 copies sold, and just outside the Top 20 in the Billboard Country Albums chart. That’s not a serious blow for an artist in the Americana realm. But for someone signed to Warner Bros. Nashville, it’s certainly a disappointment for all parties. For context, Monroe’s last album The Blade debuted at #2 on the albums charts, and sold over twice as many copies on its debut week.
Sparrow as an album is somewhat difficult to pin down, and difficult to take measure of. Part of the reason it has suffered in sales is from lacking a definable or resonant single. Of course radio wouldn’t play it anyway, but a highly-regarded song might have garnered wider attention from the effort from mainstream fans. “Hands On You” tried, but was a hard sell to a wide audience. Instead, the approach to this record was more non commercial. It was similar to Chris Stapleton, selecting Dave Cobb as the producer, and recording Sparrow in Nashville’s Studio ‘A’, which was the ideal venue to incorporate the string arrangements that are the most indicative element of the album. Studio ‘A’ was originally constructed as a big room with a vaulted ceiling to be the ideal vessel for the orchestral recordings of the Countrypolitan Era.
However Sparrow is not a Countrypolitan record, nor it is even really country. By straying somewhat from her country past, Monroe also put herself at odds with some of her grassroots followers. And released on one of the busiest weeks we’ve seen for highly-anticipated albums in recent memory (Brothers Osborne, Old Crow Medicine Show, Joshua Hedley, Charley Crockett, others released on the same day), Sparrow was somewhat lost in the shuffle.
The songwriting on Sparrow is what endures, autonomous of any other concerns. It might even be fair to mark it as her most refined songwriting effort yet. Songs like the opening “Orphan,” or the stirring story of “Rita,” or the heartbreak of “Paying Attention” are what distinguishes an artist like Ashley Monroe from the mundane efforts of the mainstream. Waylon Payne worked a lot with Monroe on the songwriting of this record, of which Monroe co-write every track.
Monroe’s voice is also in top form. It’s able to handle both sexy subject matter, of which Sparrow broaches on numerous occasions, including the sultry “Hands On You” and the rambunctious “Wild Love.” It also handles the sweet and loving stories, whether singing about her new gift of motherhood, or the affection for her father in “Daddy I Told You.”
But you can’t help but wonder what songs like “Rita” and “Paying Attention” would sound like if only given a more twangy treatment compared to the adult contemporary and overall sedated feel of Sparrow. String arrangements and the console instrument known as the Mellotron—which mimics strings and is a favorite of Dave Cobb, and Monroe plays herself—ultimately end up as the primary takeaway of this record, beyond any genre, era, or influence. While songs and records that utilize strings can be quite stirring, the way they are used so profusely on Sparrow makes the album feel almost monochromatic.
No single song on Sparrow is worth singling out as a bad seed, but the stalwart approach of strings building the mood of each and every song, along with the lack of any diversity in tempo or texture allows the individual efforts to blend together, and not in the best way. Just like horn sections, it’s important to ask if strings or chorus arrangements are bringing anything to an individual track. Are they called for, or are they just a bid for increased production value, or even just a self-indulgent accoutrement?
Dave Cobb deserves the praise he receives as a master craftsman of the studio for the results he’s delivered, but even the greatest maestros sometimes miss the mark. He’s also incredibly busy, illustrated by the fact that he had two records released on April 20th that featured his name as helmsman (Monroe’s, and Old Crow Medicine Show). When you only have a window of a few weeks to record, little room is left for audibles from the original approach, or time for every one to settle their minds upon a certain approach and let trial and error run its course. You get what you get. Often it’s great. Sometimes it isn’t.
Sparrow is not a bad record. Some songs and performances will slot right into Monroe’s career output as worthy evidence of why she was criminally underrated in her era. But it is easy to second guess the overall approach. Even though each individual song speaks to you, all together and back to back Sparrow just sounds a little sleepy.
Ashley is now a mother, and may be resigned to never being the superstar perhaps she dreamed of being when she first hit Nashville. So she made the record she wanted to make, and had one of the best producers in country music help her. You can’t fault her for that. But it doesn’t seem unfair to slot Sparrow mid pack during a very crowded and creatively competitive release season.
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May 15, 2018 @ 8:43 am
Most females on warner bros accomplish next to nothing despite their output (think Brandy Clark). I think her team decided to take a different route with this album considering how much was spent promoting “The Blade
May 15, 2018 @ 9:05 am
Un-/popular Opinion: Sparrow will be the last Ashley Monroe (solo-)album on a Nashville major label.
Radio is not playing her songs & she can’t sell. Even the last album (The Blade – #2 Country Album Charts) sold only 38.600 units (Source: Roughstock – 06/27/16) & i don’t think the album sold much more units after 2016.
What “kills” the album for me are the strings & the strings…oh & the strings….& Ashley Monroes voice. It’s a unique voice but after 2-3 songs in arow i have enough & i miss an outstanding track.
Sparrow might be the album AM really wanted to produce but (in my opinion) Sparrow is over-produced & AM sounds forced.
Lee Ann Womack on the other side…The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone is an album LAW wanted to make (without the restrictions of a Nashville label).
May 15, 2018 @ 9:08 am
It’s a unique voice but after 2-3 songs in arow i have enough
Well…i try again: It’s a unique voice but after 2-3 songs i have enough.
May 15, 2018 @ 9:49 am
This was exactly my experience attempting to review this record. I probably listened to “Sparrow” more than any other album I have reviewed in the last six months. I recognized the quality of the songwriting, wanted to fall in love with the record itself, continued to go back to it doing everything I could to connect with it, but it just never took hold. It’s not a bad record at all. But it failed to present the songs in a way that was resonant and infectious.
May 15, 2018 @ 12:03 pm
”’But it failed to present the songs in a way that was resonant and infectious.”
And THAT’S the difference between a good song and a HIT song .
May 16, 2018 @ 5:34 am
I’ve always been curious Trigger, as busy as you are listening to everything how many listens to you give an album before you review it or even decide to review it. I know for myself that if I judge quick on a listen or 2 and then read many people really like it I go back and try and hear what I might have missed etc…. this album did nothing for me on 1 listen a couple of weeks ago and I don’t always have time to give everything 5 spins if I know it’s not for me.
May 16, 2018 @ 8:20 am
It really depends on the release. At the absolute least I would listen to a record two times all the way through, and then spot listen off of notes as I’m writing a review. Sometimes you hear something and it just all clicks. But usually I listen a good six or seven times on average, and then go back and listen to individual songs or parts. Sometimes I also will listen while driving or or different speakers, headphones, etc. Sometimes I listen to an album 10 to 15 times before I’m ready to review it. Sometimes I listen to it 10 times, walk away for a couple of weeks, come back with fresh ears.Sometimes I listen 20 times, and still don’t know what to say about it, even if I like it and it doesn’t get reviewed. Reviewing a record is a very big time commitment, and I don’t think people appreciate that when they’re complaining about something I didn’t review. I review as much stuff as I can.
May 15, 2018 @ 1:53 pm
well i loved the strings.
these aren’t your usual nashville-sound arrangements either.
Sparrow is easily the prettiest Alt Country Album of the Year imo.
May 15, 2018 @ 6:26 pm
I loved the strings too, until their presence in every song took away what was special about them, in my opinion. But I wouldn’t try and convince anyone to not like this album. I definitely recognize its merits.
May 16, 2018 @ 6:36 am
I have tried to like her, but there’s no” it'”factor there for me..Charisma is lacking too. Her voice sounds better suited for harmony than singles, at least. to my ear…
May 15, 2018 @ 9:16 am
I love her past albums and think she should be a top country performer, but I found Sparrow boring at best. I really didn’t like the album. It’s going to the back of my CD closet and I’ll wait for the next one which will hopefully be more like her past country albums. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.
May 15, 2018 @ 9:17 am
Having not been crazy about some of the more commercial songs on The Blade and then hearing the talk about lush arrangements and different direction, I was leery about this album and did not pre-order it. Also, I remember similar talk when Allison Moorer was about to release Crows in 2010 and that album never quite clicked with me. However, after streaming this album a couple of times, I found that I really enjoyed it and so I picked it up. It works for me in a way that Crows never really did. Better songs, warmer vocals. I’d say right now it’s my favorite of her three albums.
May 15, 2018 @ 11:03 am
I really liked this one too — I haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet, but I streamed it at least a few times on NPR First Listen. 🙂 “Daddy, I Told You,” “She Wakes Me Up” and “Mother’s Daughter” are probably my favorites.
May 16, 2018 @ 6:08 am
I think it’s a lovely album. I listened to it again this morning.
May 15, 2018 @ 3:59 pm
She has four albums. Her debut, Satisfied, is very little-known since it was released several times and mishandled, but it’s definitely a great record and worth checking out.
May 16, 2018 @ 6:02 am
Thanks, Megan. I’ll do that.
James Ewell Brown
May 16, 2018 @ 6:57 am
Hank’s Cadillac and Pony are great, IIRC the song with Ronnie Dunn was nominated for a vocal event award, and That’s why we call each other baby with Dwight Yoakam is fun too.
She made me a fan for life with that album, and Sparrows is just fine by me. I think that
a lot of these tracks will sound better out on the road, far away from that studio.
May 15, 2018 @ 9:44 am
It wasn’t released as a country album though was it? On iTunes it was listed under singer songwriter.
What ruined a good album for me, Ashley trying to do too much with her voice. Rita and Wild Love are lyrically two good songs but I swear she actually changes the pronunciation of the words wild love several times during the song. Love the production of the album especially on Wild Love but I don’t want to have to listen to an album with the lyrics printed out to follow what she’s singing. Her style ruined the substance IMO.
May 15, 2018 @ 10:35 am
Here we go again with the gender comments. Never ceases. However, cannot argue with the review itself. She is super-talented but 2 songs are enough before I wear thin for some reason.
May 15, 2018 @ 10:51 am
And meanwhile I am getting absolutely fucking WAYLAID on Twitter as we speak for the extreme sexism and misogyny evidenced in this clearly biased article that proves I hate women. Just proves how in this day and age, you try to take rationale positions free of political affiliation, and you piss off both sides for being an extremist.
May 15, 2018 @ 11:26 am
I’m just going to guess without looking. Is it because you said that she was a mother now? Mentioning that Cobb, who happens to be a man, deserves praise as a master craftsman? That’s all I got.
May 15, 2018 @ 12:14 pm
I actually retweeted a criticism of this article this morning and I’d like to apologize. I wasn’t fully awake yet and didn’t realize this was from your review, nor had I read the article yet (which ain’t that the problem with a lot with people on the internet these days, not having all the information). I’ve never read a piece of yours where you come off as misogynistic to me (on the contrary, you’re such a champion for women in music when it’s deserved), and this is no exception. Another well-written review, Trigger.
May 15, 2018 @ 1:22 pm
I think that’s all part of the “end justifies the means” dishonesty, if it’s the tweet I’ve just seen. An excerpt from near the bottom of the review with no context given or link provided to the article other than it was associated with Saving Country Music.
May 15, 2018 @ 1:31 pm
Yes it was taken completely out of context and I didn’t understand that at the time, nor see that it was from Saving Country Music (or I would have guessed things were off). I was part of the problem and not the solution, no Twitter before noon from now on.
May 15, 2018 @ 7:43 pm
This is what really ugly female “journalists” always seem to do to Trigger.
I guess you can say He “Triggers” them Haha
May 15, 2018 @ 7:55 pm
Okay, no reason to criticize their appearance.
One of the problems is these journalists are obsessed with this website. Just like Shooter Jennings was a few years back. They love to hate it, and hate me. Can you imagine the other truly sexist bastards out there lurking in the country music industry feeling up new artists, and yet I’m the one constantly filling up their Twitter feeds.
May 15, 2018 @ 2:18 pm
If I had seen the pull quote at it was presented on Twitter by a rival journalist with a clear agenda to discredit me, I would have taken it as a sexist comment as well. But it was not meant to stand alone. NO piece of content from Saving Country Music is meant to stand alone, unless I present it myself. I didn’t write an 11-paragraph review for it to be boiled down to one sentence. I assume an intelligent audience. I am looking for readers who want to read, go in-dept in discussion and thought about music, share ideas with others, be respectful of people’s opinions, and not give in to the short-form media that is killing our ability to think constructively.
I don’t troll people on Twitter. Some assume I do, but that’s not a practice I espouse. It is damaging to the cause these journalists purport to support, and I’ve seen the erosion with my own two eyes. I am glad to see Twitter announce today that they will be targeting trolls like the very ones who popped up today. I am against censorship in all forms, but the trolling on Twitter has completely destroyed our ability to communicate with each other on an important format.
Long live long form content.
May 15, 2018 @ 9:51 pm
“I assume an intelligent audience.” And therein lies the problem–98% of Twitter is not.
May 16, 2018 @ 8:06 am
Their tactics are ugly. They use bullying and the always charming, passive-aggressive “I’ve made mistakes, too and am trying to help you.”
May 15, 2018 @ 10:55 am
Love this record! Ashley Monroe > Kacey Musgraves IMO
May 15, 2018 @ 4:22 pm
Both of their albums this year are disappointments.
jessie with the long hair
May 15, 2018 @ 11:12 am
Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves should start a duo and work the Americana world. They could play their solo hits live, make duo records where they take turns singing lead, save money by just paying one band on the road, and the Americana folks would fawn all over them.
May 15, 2018 @ 11:13 am
I’ve only heard a few songs from the record thus far. Lyrically it may ‘ pass the test ‘ but I can’t get by her nondescript, pitch- suspect vocals and the dynamic-free approach to ….everything I’ve heard . An artist needs a song that will grab people by the throat and shake ’em til they’re dizzy to get mainstream attention today- no matter the genre. I don’t hear that song in anything AM has recorded thus far . I know she has her fans …but I’m speaking from a mainstream perspective and she has nothing that would compete with even the worst mainstream crap in terms of ear candy , hooks and dynamics .
From the alt/indie side of things , she is vying for attention alongside the likes of Patti Griffin, Dori Freeman,Claire Lynch, Emmy -Lou Harris, Gretchen Peters , Margo Price ,Courtenay Smiths, Lindi Ortega, Lori McKennas , Kasy Chambers and an almost endless list of acts who seem to have a much better grasp of WHO they are and how they go about promoting that ….not to mention having track records of great albums .
Ashley Monroe COULD be a decent bluegrass singer ( or straight trad country ) with that voice and some trad BG harmonies. No …there’s no money in ‘ grass ….but at least it would give her career some focus and likely a following that understands who she is , what she does and stays somewhat loyal to her because of it . I feel like maybe there’s not enough character vocally or creatively for people to commit to chasing every musical turn she makes . I want my mac and cheese to taste like mac and cheese every time I sit down to it . Sure , you can throw a bit more ketchup on it …or double the chees …maybe some pepper to spice it up ….but I don’t wanna be guessing what’s in the box when I buy it .
May 16, 2018 @ 4:56 am
Think it has been taken down but the Opry has her playing on there years ago doing “hank’s Cadillac” and it’s exactly what you describe she needs to be. It’s a song she wrote when she was 17.
I’ve always loved Ashley. Stuff I heard lately it just me liking it and not love.
Strait Country 81
May 15, 2018 @ 11:48 am
What’s the exact meaning of the Rita song?
May 15, 2018 @ 12:37 pm
I love both Like a Rose and The Blade, and Sparrow is… fine. I had big hopes of this record, and each song listened on its own works, but the flow of songs in the album format is produced in a way that it seems like a perfect candidate to put on before bedtime. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it puts Monroe in a lush, overproduced box. I haven’t seen any tour dates for Monroe following the release- the songs all have potential to have life breathed into them on the stage. I hope that Monroe has more opportunities to make music. Hopefully she will link back up with Vince Gill- he seemed to be a better collaboration partner for her.
May 15, 2018 @ 4:26 pm
I don’t know who is more to blame: Ashley Monroe or Dave Cobb.
May 15, 2018 @ 3:56 pm
This is almost exactly how i feel about this album. The overall approach doesn’t suit Ashley’s vocals either; it works on songs like “Orphan” and “Hard on a Heart” to perfection, but it takes away from her emotion and drowns her out on songs like “Paying Attention” and “She Wakes me Up.” She struggles sometimes to be heard over the incessant strings and even has pitch issues for the first time ever. Sometimes the arrangements are elegant; more often, they are cluttered. She made this highly personal record, and you can see that in the writing, but she’s held back from actually delivering that emotion vocally, keeping the listener at arm’s length and out of this very personal headspace for much of the record. It’s the opposite of Kacey Musgraves’ latest effort–the writing there isn’t as strong, but you feel Kacey connecting with her audience, letting you in. With Ashley Monroe, and unlike on Ashley’s previous records, you feel like an outsider. I think Dave Cobb is a terrible producer for her. She should have kept Vince Gill.
May 15, 2018 @ 4:20 pm
Scalding hot take——– I’m not a fan of Dave Cobb’s producing efforts.
Look I get it, he’s considered by all the ‘hot’ independents (artists and fans alike) to be the greatest thing going now, and they know much more about such things than I do. BUT, taking a few recent examples, this particular Ashley Monroe record, the new song off of a to be released Dillon Carmichael album, Chris Stapleton’s output, there’s more, but this is going to be more than I want to tackle already, Dave Cobb ruins what I’ve liked about multiple artists when I’m introduced to them.
Example #1. Ashley Monroe. ‘Satisfied’ is a fantastic record top to bottom. Country as hell, she nails the vocals, seems comfortable delivering the songs. Like A Rose, same, albeit a bit different. Still good, but the songs were a bit ‘out there’ for me in spots, but the production is good. The Blade, I’m still a fan. A bit fluffier in production, but I can get past it because of the songs and her delivery is still on point. Now Sparrow… It just seems weird to me. I get no groove of ‘oh hell yes what a great song, and she nails it here,’ or wow that really sounds great what they did with this part of the instrumentation. And for someone who knows nothing about record producing, I feel like that is on Cobb. I won’t be buying this record.
Example #2. Dillon Carmichael. “Old Songs Like That” is freaking awesome. Then I saw Trigger’s article on an upcoming album produced by Dave Cobb. I balked before listening to the released track. It was nothing close to what I loved about Old Songs Like That. Ugh, another victim of Dave Cobb production.
Example #3. Chris Stapleton. Yes, I know Cobb produced Traveller, which I enjoy, each progressive release has given me less and less to like. And in all honesty, ‘What Are You Listening To’ is his best output. In conclusion, the longer Stapleton has been around Cobb, the less I’ve gotten out of his music.
Please keep in mind, these are all just my opinions, and I respect what Cobb has done for independent artists, really I do, but his ‘sound’ just isn’t for me.
May 15, 2018 @ 4:34 pm
I think Dave Cobb is a good producer, and generally deserves the praise he receives. However if things don’t go right, they can go wrong real quick. The Mary Chapin Carpenter album a couple of years back was a good example. It’s pretty common for artists to work on records, take a few weeks or months off, come back to them with a fresh ear or solicit feedback from others, completely scrap what they initially did, or save some of the basic stuff but take a different approach, then change their minds again, go back into the studio, until they feel they’ve captured the magic that represents the songs best.
With Dave Cobb’s approach, there is no room for error. He doesn’t demo songs, and he only has a couple of week window for each project. This works great for people like Stapleton or Old Crow Medicine Show. But that doesn’t work for everybody. That doesn’t mean Cobb is unwilling to go back and redo stuff if it’s called for. But that’s not really how his process works. He’s trying to capture a moment in a bottle, and sometimes that moment is not worth capturing. That moment is weeks or months down the road.
May 15, 2018 @ 7:32 pm
Thanks for the reply. As I mentioned, the process is foreign to me, so any insight is welcome.
May 16, 2018 @ 8:21 pm
This is really interesting. Thanks for this explanation, Trigger.
May 15, 2018 @ 7:24 pm
I feel like I could write a piece entirely on the successes and failures of Dave Cobb as a producer over the years. As Trigger pointed out, his approach to cut a record in a week or two is great for some artists. He did a fine job with Old Crow Medicine show, and he did an even finer job with Brent Cobb’s latest. He didn’t do this Ashley Monroe album justice at all, and he underproduced John Prine’s album in spots and left Prine’s vocals vulnerable instead of making the phenomenal songwriting the main focus. A lot of people would tell you he underproduced Colter Wall as well, although personally I think he produced that album fantastically.
With stapleton, Cobb is generally a good producer, but not a great one. Each subsequent Stapleton release has gotten more predictable and boring, but that is both the fault of Cobb and of Stapleton himself, due to a general lack of passion from the singer.
Cobb is generally a great producer, but the biggest problems are that he’s become the person that everyone wants to work with, and he’s not the right producer for everyone. He’s very talented, but that doesn’t mean he’s the right kind of talent for every artist. For example, Sturgill Simpson produced Tyler Childers’ record and did a really nice job. If Cobb had done it, I feel like it would have been more stripped back, similar to Colter Wall. Not saying it would have been acoustic like Wall’s, but Cobb fails to really look for extra flourishes that sometimes bring songs to life with artists like Childers and Wall. He would have really missed the point of a song like “Universal Sound,” I think. Other times, like with Ashley Monroe, the flourishes he adds are not suited for the artist–in this case, it was Ashley herself who wanted the string arrangements, so that’s not entirely on Dave Cobb, but as a producer, it’s also his job to advise her that certain songs may sound better if done in a different way. As I say, I could write a whole piece on this.
May 15, 2018 @ 7:38 pm
I’m glad you mentioned Brent Cobb! That latest record of his is one ain’t can get behind. Which I guess goes against all I’ve said about Cobb, but something about it feels right, and true to Brent, and true to the songs. Although it’s not right up my wheelhouse, I generally like a more traditional sound, several of those cuts really perked my ears the first time I heard them
May 15, 2018 @ 8:27 pm
”Cobb is generally a great producer, but the biggest problems are that he’s become the person that everyone wants to work with, and he’s not the right producer for everyone. He’s very talented, but that doesn’t mean he’s the right kind of talent for every artist….”
dead on Megan …..
May 15, 2018 @ 9:15 pm
I appreciate you criticisms of him, because they are pretty balanced. I think the artists he records that are amazing musicians and sound good live will benefit most from working with him. He doesn’t try to make them something they are not. It’s more of an honest approach and although he’s the “it” producer now, it’s still a breath of fresh air to me, considering the alternative of beleaguered over-production so common place today. Finally, I think that the blame for boring records should fall more on the artist than the producer. You can’t polish a turd, as they say.
May 15, 2018 @ 4:32 pm
Fantastic record! Finally a Dave Cobb production that’s got my attention. Can’t get enough of those string arrangements.
May 15, 2018 @ 4:51 pm
well …..she’s sold ONE copy anyway ….
May 15, 2018 @ 5:17 pm
“Can’t get enough of those string arrangements.” Really? Sure, it’s different than Cobb’s typical minimalist approach, but it’s still sleep-inducing.
Stapleton’s debut was great because of Stapleton, and Cobb was lucky. That’s an unpopular opinion, I’m sure. But after his lifeless production of Colter Wall, among others, I am not a fan of Cobb, to say the least. He is a mediocre producer. Go back and listen to Tracy Lawrence, Mark Chesnutt, and almost anyone pre-2000, and you’ll hear what production quality sounds like.
May 15, 2018 @ 8:35 pm
” But after his lifeless production of Colter Wall, among others, I am not a fan of Cobb, to say the least. He is a mediocre producer. Go back and listen to Tracy Lawrence, Mark Chesnutt, and almost anyone pre-2000, and you’ll hear what production quality sounds like.”
yup ….less isn’t ALWAYS more . sometimes stuff needs more ……..a great producer knows which stuff that is and how to deliver that .
But hey , if I was a producer with 9 out of 10 recording acts phoning me with work I likely wouldn’t turn them down either .Its a tricky situation for Cobb in that regard , I would think . He may be dealing with artists who are dictating to HIM what THEY think they should sound like .
May 15, 2018 @ 5:58 pm
Agree with many (if not all) your points … hard to pin down, missed the mark (Cobb), monochromatic…. however, I keep trying to give this album another try because a. Monroe did something different, creative, b. there’s something sweet and honest about the project.
May 15, 2018 @ 6:24 pm
Loved the first record but not really into the new ones. Her voice is perfect for a classic country sound.
May 15, 2018 @ 6:30 pm
I wanted to love this. Orphan is just a gorgeous song. But, those strings are overused and drown out the vocals.
In their NPR interview, they both referenced “Wichita Lineman” as an inspiration. It’s more like an insult. Glenn Campbell didn’t battle the stings in that song. Monroe fights to be heard over the layers.
Give me these songs without a synth orchestra behind them and I’m in. But Cobb did her zero favors here. If he wants to record instrumentals, let him. Ugh.
May 15, 2018 @ 10:55 pm
Just saw her do some disco song on Seth Meyers…looks like a new trend…great…
May 16, 2018 @ 4:45 am
This isn’t a quick listen record, and ours is a quick listen culture, so it won’t sell. But imo it’s the best country record to come out of Nashville in a long, long time. FGL is twangy. Who the fuck cares about twangy? Sparrow is solidly in the Glen Campbell wing of the 70’s pop/politan tradition, so much so that much of it sounds like it could have been produced by Campbell, so not sure at all how she’s taking some kind of detour away from country. Production, as much as some people might hate the idea, is as much a part of songwriting as the actual playing of the instruments and writing of the notes and has been since the 40’s. The production on this record is stunning. Yes, there’s a lot of orchestration. Read the interviews with Monroe – that’s how she heard the songs when she wrote them. And if we’re judging ‘country’ on honesty, I don’t know how you get much more honest than these songs.
Nobody likes the popular guy, I get it, so it’s hip to diss Cobb. But this is maybe the best thing he’s ever done. I’m not taking anything away from Stapleton, but Stapleton is about as imaginative as a box of nails. He can sing like crazy, and he has soul, but he’s not doing anything anybody wants to write home about. Sparrow is high art, the kind that Campbell used to create. Blurred lines, high emotion, subtle genius stuff.
May 16, 2018 @ 9:44 am
Not sure I’d call this record ” high art ” Craig…but putting production opinions aside , we’re still left with AM’s less than stellar vocal style ..particularly in this setting . There are unquestionable pitch issues , a lack of ‘soul’ , and often difficult -to- discern lyrics ( enunciation ? ).
To my ear and , by some accounts many others here, this stuff just doesn’t fit her ….or vice versa…..same result . As far as comparing this to Glen’s stuff ……Glen could make ANYTHING sound like a masterpiece with that God-given voice and the passion that fueled it . But he didn’t have to rely on that gift alone . He had GREAT material and great productions throughout his career and arguably none better than his final album with Carl Jackson helming .
I applaud AM for attempting something a little different . And I get that trad country isn’t in vogue right now . But that’s who she is , IMO .
This one just doesn”t work for her
August 11, 2018 @ 6:40 pm
Specifically where are the pitch issues?
May 16, 2018 @ 8:23 pm
I agree with you so much. I was disappointed that no one else seems to like it because I think it’s gorgeous. And I can feel that it will continue to unfold over time. Golden Hour is getting better and better for me, and I think this will too.
May 16, 2018 @ 11:20 am
None of that makes any sense. Pitch issues? Really? She’s not trying out for American Idol. She’s an established songwriter/singer trying to tell a story. If it’s pitchy or not is up to her ear alone. Believe me, if it’s pitchy in a way that ruins the song she won’t let it go out the door. And she’s been quoted as saying that this is her favorite work. I hear every word on this record, and I’m 50 with rock and roll hearing loss. Lack of soul? That’s just, I don’t even know how to answer that charge. This is a heartbreaking record. I don’t know where you get more soul. Even uptempo stuff like Hands on Me is heartbreaking. Finally, ‘Trad Country’ isn’t even definable, let alone useful as a descriptor for what somebody ‘is’ or ‘is not’.
From the interviews I don’t think that she was trying to do ‘something different’. I think that she heard these songs in her head a certain way and Cobb helped her get them out into the world the way that she thought they should sound.
Also, don’t ever use the phrase ‘pitch issues’ again, unless you’re one of the Acabellas. Sweet Jesus God. Pitch issues.
jessie with the long hair
May 16, 2018 @ 7:14 pm
You obviously don’t know much about country music.
May 17, 2018 @ 5:16 pm
” If it’s pitchy or not is up to her ear alone.”
???? Its either pitchy ( distracting to listen to ) or its not . Pitch isn’t an opinion , Craig .
This record has pitch issues with the vocals . Now whether a listener can hear that or not ……or whether it bothers them or not is another issue altogether .
Pitch aside , it seems many people are hearing other issues with her vocals as well .They seem buried in places . Sometimes buried vocals and pitch problems aren’t a coincidence
In any case …I don’t think it will have mainstream appeal ….but I’m sure her heart was in the record ( unlike the FGLs and the Hunts etc) and I hope it finds fans . It was different ….and that’s brave in these times .
May 31, 2018 @ 5:28 am
Why are you being so sanctimonious about pitch, which is something wholly objective?
jessie with the long hair
May 16, 2018 @ 7:17 pm
The truth is, no one cares because this is boring music. Yawn…
August 11, 2018 @ 6:42 pm
It’s great music.