Spark and Whisper – Monument

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Spark and Whisper – Monument

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Though the press sheet for Spark and Whisper’s third long-player to date Monument would really implant in your brain that this band is a folk outfit, the music seems to beg to differ. Sure acoustic guitars glisten and mandolin/banjo trade off in tandem, but Spark and Whisper also bring a surplus of blues, rock n’ roll and boogie to the table. Folk is just one side of the coin here.

Spark and Whisper are technically the team of Anita Sandwina and Velvy Appleton, though they are backed by the C-4 loaded rhythmic section of Paul Eastburn and Scott Johnson. To give their sound that little bit extra they employ the cello work of Joshua McClain and keyboardist Michael Wray. The compositions are strong, punchy and to the point. There’s no need for epic length writing with songs this good. The title track marries influential, Howlin’ Wolf style blues with country rock and fuzzed-out rock antics. A literal wall of instrumentation greets the instrumentation with acoustic and electric riffs making trade-offs while the rhythm section earns their keep with leather tough playing. These guys and gal remind me of an oft-forgotten pack of Americana rockers The Brandos, especially their albums Honor among Thieves and Gunfire at Midnight. It’s that blend of twangy blues n’ Americana with red-blooded rock n’ roll that brings the comparison to mind…

From that point onward the album takes more twists and turns than a curved road in heavy winter snow with literally any type of song you can imagine making an appearance. “Bottom of the Well” is a dark, lonely form of the blues with stomp percussion and well-timed guitar licks that give Velvy a chance to take the lead vocal point (Anita took ‘em on the opener) and things gradually build to some sizzling rock tactics later on. A weepy-eyed ballad comes next with “I am yours” but Anita’s powerhouse vocals keep things from falling into the pratfalls of sad 80s balladry with the country n’ folk trail mix crackling in every guitar, mandolin and banjo lick. The rhythms also pick up nicely in the second half for some surprising energetics.

If there were any bad songs I’d name them, but there aren’t. “Far from this World” incorporates cello into the mix and strides a fence between downplayed blues/folk and more aggressive rockin’ to keep it interesting from start to finish. The phenomenal “River Winding” is perhaps the album’s most striking track, calling to mind old mountain music with just enough fuzzy, blood-drooling electric guitars to plant its roots firmly in the rock world as well. Exploring funk and almost Latin styled rhythms, “A Little Bit More” and “Mojo” recall the blues and country rock as much as they do the elegance of Santana and Al Dimeola. “California” could almost be a Beach Boys tune if it wasn’t for the more standard rock foundation, but it’s an enticing pop number no matter what ruler you use to measure. The heart-breaking curtain call piece “Bless this Mountain” shows that Spark and Whisper appreciate music from ages ago and not just the current crop with its blend of mid-paced acoustic guitars, banjos and mandolin.

Spark and Whisper’s Monument doesn’t sound like much else out there. At least not much that the radio dares to play anyway; this is truly a return to roots music that is actually worth hearing. Anybody into any of the aforementioned genres and artists should absolutely own this band’s entire discography, especially this, their most recent record.

8 out of 10 stars.

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Shannon Cowden

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