When I found out I was going to be listening to a new Jay Sparrow album, I was excited. I neglected to read up on the new album’s development, however. So I was a little bit shocked when I started playing the album and heard synthesizers. My eyes widened, and I wondered briefly if I had been sent the wrong album. I knew from the vocals that it was Jay Sparrow, though, and I almost reacted the way the audience at the Newport Folk Festival of ’65 reacted when Bob Dylan went electric.
However after a bit of reading (and listening, of course) I calmed down and realized that Sparrow has chosen not to remain the same and instead forge ahead. It’s not like he’s the first artist to go electronic (see Rae Spoon, for example) and what’s more, he’s managed to create something a little unique.
On White, Sparrow has forgone guitars and organic instruments for a completely synthetic album. On top of the synthesizers and drum machines is Sparrow’s voice, which for the most part hasn’t changed since the roots-ier days of Tempest Line and In Our Time. And that’s what makes this so interesting- one does not usually hear vocals like that in electronic music.
It may take a second to orient oneself while beginning to listen, but it shouldn’t be hard. Sparrow’s vocals are still as powerful as ever, as in the opener “Stronger” that also features some great background vocals. “Cold Winter Song” isn’t as electronically busy as the last song I described, but it does show that Sparrow’s lyrics haven’t lost touch either. “Oh, my day is fading long in this cold winter song/And I’ve loved you so long, and I’ve taken you for granted but you took it on the chin,” Sparrow sings.
There is a bit of vocal distortion on a few songs like “Until We Run Out” and “Don’t Try.” I got the sense that Sparrow was testing how far he wanted to push the electronics, but the vocals were still pleasant to the ear. “Until We Run Out” is probably the most experimental track on the album, ending with a minute of electronic noise.
“Days of a Child” is the most organic-sounding song, featuring the prominent sound of keys. It’s almost a piano ballad. a song that one would sing as one reminisces about the past. “Days of a child, lord how they run you wild,” Sparrow sings.
White is certainly a different direction for a singer-songwriter who played roots-flavoured rock, and before that punk. The transition to an electronic sound can be fraught with peril, but Jay Sparrow has successfully bridged the gap. Who knows what he’ll do on his next album- chamber folk maybe?
Top Tracks: “Stronger”; “Careless”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)