Buffalo, NY based singer/songwriter Sarah Parker is cut from a classic country cloth, but her release Strawberry Moon is rife with many different musical voices. She makes unabashed use of a variety of musical voices, many of them culled from a Southern childhood steeped in such sounds, Her songwriting talents are often familiar in the way they invoke time tested imagery any fan of country or blues will recognize, but there are other points of view working their way into the fabric of these songs far removed from influences like Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Patsy Cline. The album’s fourteen songs, as well, reveal Parker to be a natural storyteller whose eye for significant detail uncovers depths in her subjects lesser songwriters are incapable of fleshing out and bringing to life.
“Sugar Town” is familiar, yet different. The vulnerability behind Parker’s songwriting is quite anything you are going to hear from modern Nashville and that’s fine – Parker is working in her own territory, paying deference to past sounds, but her songwriting point of view gives this traditional slant a fresh coat of paint. The pedal steel woven into the arrangement gives it some of that “high lonesome sound” you expect, but it never sounds stilted. Parker offers listeners one arch traditional country ballad with the track “You Can’t Tell A Heart” and it’s a convincing effort with an especially potent chorus and it’s an utter pleasure to hear her coax out the song’s lyrics with such sensitivity and obvious attentiveness to the arrangement. One of the most distinguishing factors of her approach lies in how Parker tailors her voice to work alongside the arrangements rather than positioning her singing against them – as a result, each of the album’s fourteen songs emerges as a fully unified effort.
The title song “Strawberry Moon” is the album’s second longest song and another example of her talents with a chorus. It’s the central dramatic moment in a carefully constructed, yet airy, musical composition capped off with Parker’s finest vocal performance included on the release. The searching nature of Parker’s songwriting is emphasized with the song “Road to Your Discovery” and the uptempo jaunt is well complemented by an acoustic guitar running deep in the mix, an obvious nod to the song’s likely sound in its initial incarnation before Parker entered the studio. Organ is one of the more underrated sounds on this album and it gets a showcase moment of sorts with the track “Rose Hill” deepening the bluesy pallor of the song and serving as an occasional counterpoint for Parker’s own blues-soaked vocal.
“Home” has some interesting understated percussion different from what we’ve heard elsewhere on the release and a light instrumental touch with beguiling melodic strengths. The hint of orchestration and piano lines running through the song make it particularly memorable. “Lonely Highway” is an excellent example of how she brings an unique songwriting perspective in full accord with the traditional elements structuring the songs included on Strawberry Moon. It’s the true climax for this exceptional release and points towards a bright future for Parker, included a new full length release due in 2019, and we can undoubtedly expect her to match or excel the stunning work heard on this collection.