Sarah Parker’s album Strawberry Moon rates as a family affair of the best sort. Produced by husband and respected singer/songwriter/musician Robert Parker, Sarah Parker proves her mettle as a singer and songwriter alike with this release but goes a step further with her wholehearted embrace of traditional country sounds. The first song “Sugar Town” serves as an effective guide post – the inclusion of pedal steel serves notice Parker is more than willing to invoke echoes of a classic country sound, yet the storytelling strengths in the heart of her songwriting far outstrip similar efforts we hear from lesser performers. Her voice definitely has a level of delicacy that’s impossible to ignore, but it isn’t ethereal without any strength. She has pathos and phrasing in her vocal that helps the storytelling get under your skin.
“29 South” has a tempo running a bit faster than the opener, but nothing ever feels or sounds rushed. The same penchant for airy arrangements continues with this track, but the drumming grounds the song well without ever making a hamfisted impact on the song and keys a number of critical turns in the arrangement. Parker delivers a little extra oomph with her vocals that helps make this an indelible number. “Even When You’re Lonely” pursues the same mid-tempo ends and has a slightly grittier vocal thanks to Parker’s ability to modulate her voice according to the musical context. The piercing lead guitar punctuating the song along the way is another highlight.
Mandolin leaves a mark on the track “I Got To Wander” and it has a near shuffle tempo ideal for the new instrumentation. Parker’s vocal is playful and life affirming despite the melancholy present in its lyrical content. The arrangement has some low key dramatic turns along the way and light touches of harmony vocals that work well with Parker’s voice. The album’s title song, its second longest song, deserves the distinction of being a title track and an extended musical workout. Once again, however, there’s never anything less than an intelligent and patient approach characterizing the performance. The sparse arrangement serves the song well and focuses our attention on the singing and lyrical content – an added boon considering this is, arguably, the album’s finest song.
There’s a slightly harder musical edge cutting through with the track “Rose Hill”, complete with organ worked into the arrangement, and the song’s bluesy inclinations give Parker an ideal platform for capturing the audience’s attention. Parker, as a songwriter, is adept at sketching out meaningful characters with just the right amount of detail and that talent is highlighted with the song “Gypsy Rose” – but even more notable is Parker’s talent, as a songwriter, for avoiding the sort of tropes that might drag down a similar tune in the hands of lesser writers and performers. The album’s longest cut comes with the appropriately haunted feel of “Lonely Highway” and, once again, much of its quality hinges on the inclusion of different instrumental voices – in this case, organ makes a decided difference on this song being great instead of merely good. The lyrical creativity, as well, helps lodge this tune deep in your consciousness. Sarah Parker’s Strawberry Moon has a lot that’s familiar for long time country fans, but Parker’s songs and music alike have their own voice that pays respect to the past without ever being beholden to it.