Spark & Whisper – Monument

It isn’t difficult to discern the different influences shaping Spark & Whisper. Their artistic pedigree is in full view on their latest release Monument. The usual suspects are present. There is definitely a side to what Anita Sandwina and Velvy Appleton do that is pure, dyed in the wool folkie, ripped straight from the Guthrie/Dylan playbook and Monument has a number of moments like that. Spark & Whisper are not content stopping there however.

Their musical vision encompasses a number of disparate elements they never fail to merge into a singular and utterly comprehensible. They exhibit fleet-footed movement between a variety of styles without ever betraying themselves with even a hint of misstep. This is an intensely melodic and creative affair from its first song to last.

The band mixes it up with some outright country influenced gems like River Winding, The Circle and the album’s elegiac finale Bless This Mountain. This mode induces a little more melancholy than one might otherwise hear from the band, but Spark & Whisper should never be confused for gloom merchants of any sort.

The album’s more memorable stylistic aberrations, like the title track, A Little Bit More, or Mojo, are evidence of their talents. These aren’t songs where stylistic quirks seem to be shoehorned into the artist’s pre-existing predilections, but instead,  but the upbeat outlook powering the title song, the funk stylings present in the surprising A Little Bit More, and the Latin laced guitar grooves of Mojo show this isn’t nearly a band that does one or two things exceptionally well.

Instead, the majority of Monument sets the band quite apart from their contemporaries. Chemistry allows them the luxury of performing, writing, and recording as musical chameleons and part of the thrill listening to this album is never knowing for sure, from song to song, where Spark & Whisper will land.

They always land in a satisfying way however. There is a careful deliberation heard on this album, not one that drains it of spontaneity and life but, instead, a clearly considered approach designed to realize the material’s potential. This California-based duo work hard and have a prolific track record despite their relatively brief association, but quantity really does equal quality in this case.

There’s a timeless atmosphere surrounding the tracks on Monument and one can only assume that this is largely due to two reasons – Sandwina and Appleton have an extraordinary command over their songwriting powers and their conscious mastery of technique has brought them ever closer to writing and recording the kind of songs they like while their subject matter continues, as well, to touch on eternal themes.

These two elements come together to add a level of excellence to Spark & Whisper’s work quite unlike anything else on or in the scene today. This release will only burnish their growing reputation.

9 out of 10 stars.

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