From one world into another: Sparrow Pants sets sail

Walking in an enchanted forest: You may have seen her in the circus, or busking on a downtown street. Now Sparrow has a new album.

who: Sparrow Pants Set Sail CD Release Party, with Balkan Death Grip
where: The Get Down
when: Friday, December 14, 9 p.m. ($7)

“I feel like this album is about the wheel of life, about beginnings and endings. There are a lot of songs that are about leaving, or someone leaving,” says Sparrow Pants about her first solo record, Set Sail, which comes out this week. The album does feel like a journey, one that begins by walking through an old wooden gate into an enchanted land.

At the forefront of the recording is Sparrow’s bright, velvet voice, which dances on the melodies of her accordion, banjo, viola, saw and piano.

“I’ve played music and sang since I was a little kid,” says Sparrow, who grew up in Colorado. “I was in the town children’s choir. I started orchestra in seventh grade, and I picked the viola, because it was weird.”

A significant milestone on her musical path came when she was 20. “I went to New Orleans for Halloween and it changed my life,” she explains. After hearing street performers playing the accordion, “I was like ‘I want to do that.’” Later, while living in California, she picked up the banjo. Both instruments can be heard on Set Sail, sometimes on the same song, to nice effect.

Sparrow is known for being in the Sugarfoot Serenaders, the Asheville Tango Orchestra and the Runaway Circus Band. She also performs and teaches belly dance.

“I’ve played music with Sayde Osterloh for almost a decade now. We were in the first band I was ever in together. Actually me and Sayde and Patrick Kukucka,” says Sparrow of her fellow Sugarfoot Serenaders. “So they are my all time music pals.”

About a year ago the Sugarfoot Serenaders were going through a transition, as band members temporarily turned their energy to other projects and travel.

“I had about a half a dozen songs that I really wanted to play with the band that we never seemed to get around to, original songs, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is the time to make a solo album,’” says Sparrow. “As soon as I made that decision, I’ve written like 15 or 20 songs. It’s been a crazy outpouring.”

As is often the case with great art, many of the songs on Set Sail were born out of personal challenge.

“It’s been a really rough year in a lot of ways,” Sparrow admits. “I’m 28 years old, I feel like I’m starting to experience the wheel turning. It’s a transitional period of life and it feels like it’s been a year of things falling apart and dying, both literally and metaphorically and I feel like I’m just starting to come out of it, like I’ve just walked through fire and I’m just starting to come out on the other side a different person.”

The lyrics on Set Sail reflect this crucible experience. “Of course it’s complicated like all good things are, from the ground ‘neath our feet to the farthest of stars,” Sparrow sings on “Complicated.”

Moreover, the music is a departure from her previous work. “Maybe because I’ve been writing a lot of songs on the banjo, there’s a lot more old-time and traditional American music influence, and less jazz and Eastern European music influence like a lot of my older stuff has been, though there’s still some of that in there, too.”

Set Sail
was recorded at Hi-Z Lo-Z Studio with Kukuchka. “It’s been amazing because he’s one of my favorite friends; I respect him so much musically, and in lots of other ways,” enthuses Sparrow. “He really is a musical genius. He let me lead and decide, but he has provided golden advice here and there.” While Sparrow plays most of the instruments on the album, Set Sail includes contributions from Jeff Loops (bass), Keith Smith (guitar, washboard) and Kukucka (drums).

“I love that there is an element of this album that feels like a really special connection at a campfire,” says Sparrow of the intimate feel of the album.

With the theme of transformation woven throughout the record, it is fitting that the title track was inspired by a winter solstice ritual. In essence, Sparrow explains, Set Sail is "about the death of the sun and the passing from one world into another.”

Ami Whoa can be contacted at amiwhoa@gmail.com.

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