Esther Sparks was born and raised in a spiritual community, the Spire Fellowship, based in Overtoun House in West Dunbartonshire. She moved to the States in 1996 living in New Orleans for several years before relocating to Colorado, a chequered past and one which she’s visited on prior albums. Now she’s formed a band, The Whiskey Remedy (American spelling of whisky please note) and released Love Songs. The album was released back in October of last year and Sparks and company actually played two Scottish release dates along with a session on Tom Morton’s radio show. Late as ever to the party Blabber’n’Smoke was only recently alerted to the album but on listening reckoned it’s well worth sharing here.
Love Songs is a short album with Sparks on guitar and vocals and married couple, Darren Thornberry on harmonies and lead guitar, and his wife, Melissa on drums. It’s dominated by Sparks’ strong vocals which retain a hint of her Scottish roots while her writing is rooted in a confessional folk idiom recalling writers as diverse as Tracy Chapman and Michelle Shocked while there’s a sense of Eddie Reader in the delivery. The trio deliver the songs with brio and mention must be made of Melissa Thornberry’s percussion which is inventive throughout, adding colour to the primarily acoustic guitar based numbers. Mr. Thornberry adds some guitar solos but his primary contribution is on the harmony vocals, best heard on the vituperative Love Like Yours.
The album opens with the stark self-flagellation of Forgive Me with Sparks’ regrets to the fore over forlorn piano and a climatic chorus. Always is another apology but this time more gentle and tender in its delivery despite some martial drumming and Sparks’ most assured vocals on the album while My Ground has some tremendous percussive effects which cosset Sparks’ spooky spiritual delivery. By now it’s evident that the songs are about loss and regret and Your Love Called nails this as Sparks delivers a powerful solo performance about abandonment, wondering how and why it happened, teetering on the edge of despair. Broken promises and broken love continues on the full-bodied rush of Madeleine’s Man while The Man Up The Stairs is a wish fulfilment torch song as Sparks conjures up an ideal partner. Closing with the boozy clatter of Prayer Of A Drunkard that culminates in a bar room chorus, Sparks ends up in the suds and slosh filled sentimentality that fuels broken dreams worldwide reminding one of Mary Coughlan’s odes to the demon drink.