Strawberry Moon is Florida born Sarah Parker’s first recording and sets the bar high for any future projects. The fourteen song release opens with the track “Sugar Town” and it’s a confection introducing listeners to her vocal and songwriting skills in the best possible way. She’s deft at conjuring a character for listeners in only a few lines and her own point of view is thoroughly explored without ever weighing the track down. The steel guitar present in the opener returns in the album’s second tune “29 South” and it’s a testament to her talents how Parker expertly invokes classic country music songwriting tropes in a way that feels unique and individual to her own skill set. Robert “Freight Train” Parker’s production does a superb job bringing together the album’s instrumentation in a layered, atmospheric way.
Some tasty blues guitar is one of the highlights for “Even When You’re Lonely”, but the steady push of the song’s drumming and the organ laced into the arrangement are stand out elements as well. The chorus and bridge alike are strong without ever calling too much attention to those particular passages and the light backing vocals joining Parker are effective. It’s one of the biggest winners included on Strawberry Moon. “I Got To Wander” is more playful than most songs on the release, but never expendable because of its mood. Instead, it’s a genuine joy listening to how Parker takes a subject with enormous opportunity for pathos and, instead, makes it an entertainingly familiar experience. The album’s title song has some beautiful mandolin playing accompanying the poetic flight of Parker’s lyrics and vocals. Her phrasing is masterful throughout Strawberry Moon, but especially elegant during this performance.
“Road to Discovery” has hard-hitting drumming that sets a forceful tone for the performance, but it’s solidly country track and its urgency only makes it more memorable. Parker rarely utilizes backup singers over the course of this album so, when they make their presence felt, it has an effect. Their contributions to “Road to Discovery” enhance the overall result without overstating presence. Another of the brightest commercial moments on Strawberry Moon arrives with the track “Talk in This Town”, a brilliant country track straight out of the gate that only continues improving as it progresses. It’s so enjoyable to hear how skillfully Parker and her collaborators cover well-mapped musical and lyrical territory yet make everything sound new and all their own.
It wouldn’t be a traditional or country album without mentioning a train once and the moment comes with “Keep On Movin’ (The Train Song)”. The track opens with the sound of a train whistle before segueing into a brisk near shuffle rife with strong slide guitar work and Parker responds with a delicious drawl in her voice quite fitting for the tune. “Home” has a lullaby-like quality musically and the mournful, elegiac mood of the lyrics finds on point expression through Parker’s phrasing. The same mood pervades “Lonely Highway”, the album’s lengthiest tune running over five and a half minutes, and stately organ playing, an underrated highlight of Strawberry Moon’s musical mix, contributes much to the song’s implied featured status. This is definitely a marquee effort for Sarah Parker, but it sets an early tone she seems to have the talent to build on it and soar even higher with future releases.