Ashley Monroe – Sparrow (Acoustic Sessions) EP Review
The first time I heard Orphan from Ashley Monroe’s 2018 album Sparrow, I was struck by how much the beauty and clarity of her voice reminded me of Dolly Parton’s title track on my much-loved Little Sparrow album from 2001.
Perhaps it was a subliminal memory that fluttered into my mind courtesy of our feathered friends, but listening to Orphan again on Monroe’s soon-to-be-released Sparrow (Acoustic Sessions) EP, there it was again, and truly a joy to hear.
Orphan is one of five acoustic versions of songs taken from the singer’s critically-acclaimed fourth album, which was recorded with Grammy award-winning producer Dave Cobb in the legendary RCA Studio A.
Alongside Orphan, Monroe has chosen four other tracks – Hands on You, Wild Love, Paying Attention and Keys to the Kingdom and, stripping away the rousing orchestral music of the original album, this music is pure and simple with nowhere to hide.
She lets the songs do the talking and the soulful Hands on You is a demanding story of wishing for love and regretting lost opportunitites, so strong you can hear the power and the pain.
Wild Love is, according to Monroe’s own publicity blurb, “inspired by her very first trip to London” and it is this song she chose to release first alongside the announcement of the new EP, made while she was in the UK and Europe at the end of January.
Personally, this was actually my least favourite track. I’m not really sure why, but the acoustic version just didn’t capture me in the way that the same song did with the full orchestral treatment. I missed the beat to draw you in and paint the pictures.
It’s a different story with Paying Attention, effectively a love letter to the one that got away. ‘You promised I’d miss you when you walked away. You were right when you told me I’d be sorry someday.’How many of us have been there at some time in our lives, and Monroe’s beautiful harmonies are the perfect foil to unrequited love. Some stunning fiddle and guitar work on this track in particular.
Aside from Orphan, the final track entitled Keys to the Kingdom, wins my other top vote. Its almost hymn-like, spiritual sound matches the words completely and I would give a lot to hear this sung in a venue like London’s inconic Union Chapel – there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house. Monroe’s perfect pitch and her nod to her late father with the lines ‘I heard Elvis singin’ ’bout Jesus, I saw Daddy, Norma Jean too, Oh what a view, Everyone I’ve ever loved and then some’ makes for a beautiful ending.
If you want toe-tapping, foot stomping country then walk on by, but if you want a moody masterpiece to really listen to, then look no further.
Keys to the Kingdom
Hands on You