Inspired by a soul-searching trip to New York, Sydney singer/songwriter Josh Pyke abandons his usual one-man band style of recording and for the first time, relinquishes some control to additional musicians for his third album, Only Sparrows. Produced by Wayne Connolly (Neil Finn), who also presided over his 2007 debut, Memories & Dust, it's an approach which has resulted in a more expansive sound, as evident on the "wooh-ooh" harmonies and infectious handclaps of the driving country-rock lead single, "No One Wants a Lover," the twisted steel guitar riffs and old-fashioned rock & roll beats of the driving singalong "The World Is a Picture," and the romantic Lloyd Cole-esque bedsit indie of "Coffee Cups," all of which provide Pyke's most blatant attempts at a mainstream hit to date. However, the follow-up to the ARIA Award-winning Chimney's Afire produces far less calculated results when he combines his newfound collaborative spirit with his trademark wistful and introspective folk-pop sound. Opener "Clovis Son" is a gorgeous fusion of gently strummed acoustics, twinkling glockenspiels, and dreamy West Coast harmonies which shows that his ability to tug at the heartstrings hasn't deserted him during his three-year solo absence, a quality also perfectly showcased on "Punch in the Heart," a somber, stripped-back ballad featuring the ethereal vocals of Little Birdy's Katy Steele, while the melancholic "Particles" begins with a brooding alt-rock hook before merging with an array of clattering rhythms and skittering synths on a surprisingly convincing attempt at folktronica. Perhaps recognizing the album's uptempo shortcomings, Pyke states "If I could write a sad song every day/I'd be the happiest f***** I know," ironically on the album's most upbeat track. If he could just have focused entirely on these melancholic ambitions, then Only Sparrows might not have been such an inconsistent affair.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien