Singer/songwriter Sarah Parker unleashes a stylish collection of countrified gems in her stunning debut album Strawberry Moon, which is currently garnering the attention of music critics from one side of the country to the other. Strawberry Moon blends the seductive vocal stylings of Parker with dynamic country melodies and folkie poetry that is gentle, warm and startlingly relatable. We start off with the bittersweet ballad “Sugartown,” which despite sporting a bright Nashville twang is as emotionally charged and evocatively heavy as they come. “29 South” is a little more relaxed and benefits from a minimalist groove, but one thing that becomes abundantly clear early on in this record is that Sarah Parker doesn’t cut corners when it comes to producing memorable harmonies.
The sumptuous southern slow dance that is “You Can’t Tell a Heart” might be my favorite track from the whole of Strawberry Moon, but the swaggering pop polish of “Even When You’re Lonely” is decidedly more single-ready and intrepidly designed. “Even When You’re Lonely” has the swing of an old fashioned country song, but its melody is straight out of the contemporary pop playbook. Sarah Parker struts with the confidence of an artist who has a lot more experience in the studio than she actually possesses, which says a lot considering that this is her virgin LP.
“I Got to Wander” features a rollicking percussion that is elegantly framed in earnest folk lyricism reminiscent of midcentury beat poetry. Parker’s verses prove to be as evocative as her thoughtful harmonies are when we get into the exotic title track and the haunting “Road to Your Discovery,” the latter of which is deceptively upbeat but upon closer inspection boasts one of the more melancholic narratives of the album. Blues-rocker “Rose Hill” is the kind of understated grooving that I really, really want to hear more of in future releases from this artist. She’s got such a versatile skillset that it would be next to criminal not to exploit the limits of her talent.
The familiar sway of “Talk in This Town” borders on repetitive but doesn’t quite reach the point of being qualified filler. It definitely sets the stage for the smoky bluegrass we encounter in “Keep on Movin’ (The Train Song),” which spills over into “Gypsy Rose” for a mini-encore. “Home” is another pop song stylized for country fans in the same sense as “Even When You’re Lonely” is, while “Lonely Highway” has more of a classic rock rigidity to its bones that leaves a stinging impression after a single listen. Strawberry Moon isn’t a concept album, but it definitely has a seamless fluidity that makes it a worthwhile listen as a cohesive piece.
Sarah Parker’s rookie release comes to a lumbering conclusion with the saloon-soundtracking “Straight from the Bottle,” which may well be the most lyrically inspired song of the record. Parker doesn’t pull any punches in this album; she gives us the full scope of her capabilities as both a songwriter and as a performer, and instead of drawing from the same well as her peers she dares to be different and forges a sound that is truly her own. I can’t wait to see what she does with it next, and I know I’m not the only critic saying as much.