Sparks' voice dominates the songs collected together in this suite of recordings and helps to unify the varied material, with his vocals and guitar forming the core of each arrangement. Rich and imaginative writing for the supporting instruments ensures that the images captured in the lyrics are never masked whilst exploring everything from psalm like harmony to Americana.
The cello in the opening track is warm and earthy and underpins this bright and uplifting, hymn-like tune. The harmony could have been lifted from the pages of any book of psalms. There is a real sense of hope, and although Sparks may have been motivated to compose this for much different reasons, the song feels like a call to the lost to open their eyes to a better way.
The sweet harmony continues to weave its way through 'If She Falls' and this time it is augmented by intertwined layers of violins. Some of these beautifully performed melodies dance around in distant cavernous, cathedral-like spaces whilst others are much more immediate. The effect wraps around the listener, and it's easy to get lost in the texture. Sparks' lyrics remain as a focal point among the fluid layers, and as he sings of the moment when 'lovers lose all sense of reality in their passion' the expansive atmosphere of the track seems fitting. The bass helps to drive this track and earth the high strings.
Track three is a nostalgic look at childhood. The vocals here are beautifully and delicately executed with a lofty harmony line floating over Sparks' lamenting words. The cello here adds to the bittersweet sense of longing for a long lost childhood memory. The simplicity of this arrangement adds massively to its charm.
In the following song the rhythmic bassline melds with the nasal wail of the lap and pedal-steel guitars to conjure up something with an unmistakable Americana flavour, which is appropriate given the cowboy imagery in the penultimate track. Dressed in metaphors that reference the romanticized life of a cowboy riding through a lofty open country, Sparks' tells a story of unrequited love in a slightly novel way. Although the track parodies the genre slightly, it works well with these light-hearted lyrics.
The closing track, 'Migrant', paints a bleak picture of the plight of a refugee travelling to an unknown end. In contrast to the preceding tracks on the EP, Sparks sings alone with only guitar accompanying the vocals. The harmony in the arpeggiated chords is at times jarring and uncomfortable,matching the dark subject matter. This clears briefly as the chorus shares a vision of hope, but it is short lived and the closing lines convey a deep sense of loss for the familiar things and culture that is left behind. If this is a commentary on current events, Sparks has handled the matter tastefully and sensitively without glossing over the trials faced by those fleeing all manner of horrors.
The EP in its entirety is lent a degree of polish by the high calibre of the ensemble, but it is the final track, with its weighty subject matter that seemed to resonate most and leave a deeper lasting impression. Sparks' has taken a highly topical injustice and given it a very human voice.
|Nelson King: The Collection||Hanne Kolsto: Live At Tøyenkirken|
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