Album Review: Little Sparrow – Wishing Tree

By on Tuesday, 8th September 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Little Sparrow Wishing Tree coverSinger/songwriter Katie Ware took the stage name Little Sparrow after a conversation with Elbow frontman and amateur ornithologist Guy Garvey, who has championed her music on his BBC 6 Music radio programme, along with fellow 6 Music presenters Tom Robinson and Chris Hawkins. Little Sparrow’s debut album ‘Wishing Tree’ took its initial flight last year, and she has continued to gain momentum ever since, recently re-releasing the album’s eponymous title track as a single after slowly but steadily garnering interest via Internet exposure and an ever expanding audience for live performances.

Though she often performs as a solo artist, Ware’s delicate vocals are accompanied on the ‘Wishing Tree’ LP by intricate instrumental arrangements including richly evocative string melodies and artfully agile percussion. Nevertheless, Ware’s singing voice is truly the centerpiece of these songs, with a blissfully pure tone quality and flawless technique that affords her an incredibly high degree of emotional expressivity.

The songs on ‘Wishing Tree’ are unashamedly pretty without being feckless. Their lyrics are introspective vignettes of feelings rather than full narrative stories, and Ware’s vocals are appropriately self-possessed, carefully measured to achieve their maximum impact at precisely the right moments. The depth and subtle detail in the instrumental arrangements display a thoughtful artistry in setting the tone and context for both Ware’s voice and her lyrical content.

Plaintively longing opening track ‘Polly’ sets the tone for the album with a dramatic violin countermelody and softly clicking percussion before it makes the lyrical request “if I throw them to you, would you tie my wishes to a tree”, echoing the album’s title and foreshadowing its newly re-released single. The dense string arrangement of ‘Wishing Tree’ evokes the verdant forest imagery of its accompanying video and showcases the velvety sound of Ware’s lower register as she chants its haunting chorus.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/KRt-R0NO_m8[/youtube]

The darkly expressive timbre of Ware’s lower voice contrasts with dizzyingly light and delicately executed high notes as she expertly traverses the extremes of her range in ‘Sending The Message’. Its hypnotic snare drum rhythm drops out in the song’s bridge section, allowing Ware’s vocals to blend to absolute perfection with the foundational melody in the low strings.

Early single ‘Struck Gold’ is a graceful country folk ballad whose gentle air of melancholy is heightened by the wail of pedal steel woven into the acoustic guitar and bowed strings. Despite its overt simplicity, the sweet melodicism of this track echoes in the listener’s ear long after the album is complete. The quicker tempo and shuffling drum rhythm of ‘I Found A Way’ underscore a more complex set of vocal harmonies, once again highlighting the remarkable range and flexibility of Ware’s singing.

‘The Hunted (A Bear’s Tale)’ is darkly ominous and starkly dramatic, calling to mind the intense brooding of Laura Marling as Ware intones the warning “don’t follow me to my cave / don’t come too close / I know you’re brave”. Her voice grows fuller and less restrained as she expands the lyrical idea, “don’t come too close / I can’t control myself / don’t come too close / I might lash out and I won’t forgive myself”.

Little Sparrow fully spreads her wings in the album’s final track ‘The Swallow Flies’, whose lyrics are redolent with natural imagery ranging from birds to fish and sky to sea. Bright and expansive with a broader dynamic and a resolute sense of forward motion, the song closes ‘Wishing Tree’ with a flourish, hinting at the breathtaking possibility and potential of what might come next from this delightful songbird.  New songs from Little Sparrow, the sooner the better, will certainly now be among the wishes on my own tree.

8.5/10

Little Sparrow’s album ‘Wishing Tree’ was self-released in 2014, and its featured single ‘Wishing Tree’ was re-released on the 27th of July this year. Both are available now. Little Sparrow is scheduled to appear live at the Sandbach Shop Sessions on the 24th of September and at St. Pancras’ Old Church in London on the 25th of September.

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