It’s been almost a regular misfortune that pop and indie artists who make songs driven by vocals and lyrics don’t bat an eye to making their musical compositions as dynamic or moving as the singing itself. In the case of Canadian award-winning singer-songwriter Tara MacLean though, she does quite the opposite. In her latest record “Sparrow”, which she released on March 31st, Tara put new and fresh versions of some of her older hits, as well as entirely new pieces that are of the same calibre of musical maturity and lyrical brilliance. The album spans 10 tracks, which I will be dissecting for you today.
The simple guitar progressions on this track are more emotive and moving than some full-blown orchestral compositions I’ve heard before. This piece is an open heart conversation in the form of a song, where Tara speaks to the listeners and shows a vulnerability that listeners relate to and find too honest and realistic. The way her voice is balanced between having techniques and dynamic and short notes that feel like spoken words show that she cared about emotions more than putting a lot of high notes or flashy techniques, and for that, I loved the song and had it stuck in mind for a couple of days after the first listen.
2- Lay Here In The Dark
A string arrangement in the background of a slow-tempo guitar progression and a soft percussion line are the ingredients of a successfully heart-wrenching track. This one feels more folky and more of a ballad in comparison to its predecessor, but that’s the good thing about it. If we call some music uptempo or upbeat then this must definitely be what downtempo is.
3- If I Fall – Sparrow Version
A more haunting and ethereal approach to the vocals on this one makes it all the more memorable. I love how every note resonates and rings in my ears while piercing my soul with all the emotional authenticity behind it.
4- That’s Me – Sparrow Version
This track was strongly driven by the sound of a clean guitar and a dark bass line underlying it. I love how the song is arranged with the backing vocals and strings during the verses which build up to a chorus that can be described as melancholic, operatic, and at the same time simple. I love how she balances those poppy elements with the more folky ones effortlessly.
5- Let Her Feel The Rain – Sparrow Version
This one has a lot more country and Americana vibes thanks to the vocal line that’s full of story-telling and blending of different vocal techniques together. It’s all a way to serve the emotional weight of the song and how melancholic the strings and guitars sound. The vocal hook that’s imitated by the lower-pitched strings gave me instant goosebumps the moment I heard it. Whenever you feel the instruments crying in pain and weeping along with the singer’s pain, you know that they’ve done a great job of getting the emotions across and delivering all the meanings behind the song.
6- Things Outstanding – Sparrow Version
This song makes use of a piano and brighter-sounding strings to make a generally more hopeful vibe. I love how the songs are mature and honest in the way they mention all the inner (and outer) demons that the person has to face in their life, but how they outlived and survived them. A beautiful notion with an even more beautiful soundtrack to get the message across.
7- Last Kiss
Another folky number and dare I say a happy-sounding one this time. There’s a beautiful contrast between the sound of the chord progression on this track and the melancholic counterparts it’s situated between. The vocals have an airy sound and a wider vowel placement too, giving the whole sound a less tragic vibe than the way other tracks are sung.
8- Divided – Sparrow Version
This is probably the only track with heavy drums present in its composition in this record. The synths and clean guitars make it super catchy and unique as well, and they are complemented by the vocals. The brighter tone and higher range that Tara is singing with here made this track stand out a lot from the bunch. There is a beautiful string arrangement as well as a backing male vocal line that helps this track have a different vibe it has. The turning point for me though was the saxophone that suddenly became a part of the main melody – a totally unexpected gift to an already awesome album full of awesome sounds. The layering of the vocals on this song with its groundbreaking instrumentation makes it my absolute favorite on the whole record.
9- Evidence – Sparrow Version
Tara sings with a much more grounded and resonant chest register during the verses of this song, that with the accompanying electronic synth and percussion lines, makes a more industrial and borderline gothic atmosphere. This track is very reminiscent of artists like Portishead and Amy Lee and it will pretty much appeal to anyone who generally appreciates this kind of dark and ominous orchestration coupled with modern-style vocals full of belting, riffing, and register changes.
10- SIlence – Sparrow Version
Haunting and ominous lead vocals, with backing vocals that are usually found in RnB/Soul. I was totally surprised by how Tara switched to a completely different method of extending her vowels while emphasizing her consonants like Jazz and Soul singers do- a totally unexpected twist in the indie and folk realm that the rest of the album resides in. Moreover, the clean guitars, the sax, and the well-timed percussion and bass intercepting them will all tae you back to the 50s and 60s with how sweet and dreamy they sound. This track doesn’t feel like it was made by a different artist and while it’s not a huge deviation from some of the other tracks, it’s definitely the album’s most eyebrow-raising number.
Bottom line is, this album has got a lot of different elements coming in from a plethora of genres and styles all serving one purpose: emotion. The instrumentation and vocals see eye to eye here and both of them were a lot more heartfelt than any other album I’ve heard in 2023 (so far). I have to give it to Tara MacLean that she knows how to command the listener’s emotions and thoughts just through the studio versions of these songs, so I wonder how they will sound live and what melancholic eargasms will come to me if I ever got the chance to witness this masterpiece of an album played live.