I reviewed Sparks’ 2009 album The Scorpion and the Story for Americana UK and strangely enough some of that review is quoted in the press notes for this album. According to the quote praise was, indeed, high. Digging into my archives I noted that the quote was very selective and I had really only considered the album as good rather than the second coming. Anyway, I concluded the review by suggesting that she was at her best when the songs were less cluttered, unadorned, and even more strangely she’s taken my advice (as if!).
Having relocated from Nashville to Barcelona, she retains many of the musicians who have graced her earlier efforts. Will Kimbrough and Fats Kaplin among others reappear and the album is again produced by David Henry. As on “Scorpions” Sparks has a loose concept to hang the songs on. Here she’s released the album as two discs, “a study in dichotomy” she says. Until Morning is supposed to represent her darker side while Come Out of the Dark is the “dawn that follows the darkness.” Try as I might I fail to see this “dichotomy” and in the long run it’s perhaps better to sit back, relax and enjoy the songs as they come. So casting aside all pretensions what have we got?
Essentially Sparks is a very good songwriter with a powerful voice and a cooking band. The second disc does offer a brace of tender ballads. The travelogue that is Tennessee Line tugs while Come Out of the Dark is a tremendous song of longing, of someone waiting, almost till the end of the time, to consummate a love. On the same disc Judge a Book is a real humdinger. Classic pedal steel and twang guitar rumble and wail throughout this turbo charged monster that has a wonderful cinematic feel about it.
The first disc opens with Rain (The Widow), a pile-driving howl with a magnificent percussive drive and some wild guitar squalls while Mama has an almost Hispanic beat to it. The Hispanic influence reappears on the one cover here. Quizas Quizas Quizas is a 1940’s Cuban song and Sparks delivers it with a fine sense of sensuality and menace.
Judge a Book