Mickey Newbury

His Eye Is on the Sparrow

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His Eye Is on the Sparrow is one of Mickey Newbury's prettiest records. It's intimate in a way that none of his others are; it's a lonely but not world-weary set. The songs are fraught with a more fragile and tender beauty, and are underscored by his production team's subtle nuances and textures. The album shows a return to the sound effects (particularly the rainstorm) of his earliest sides. "Westphalia Texas Waltz" is a country waltz showcasing a beautiful chamber string section set against Charlie McCoy's harmonica and the endless sound of rain falling. Newbury's version of the title track -- arranged here by film score producer Alan Moore -- is an American classic in the public domain. It's a gospel song that isn't gospel, a sacred song that is secular enough to include the sounds of gulls (and, one supposes, sparrows). "The Dragon and the Mouse"'s deep metaphorical narrative is missed because of the deceptive simplicity of the arrangement and instrumentation. Another pleasant weirdness is the brief "St. Cecelia," with its church bell and stacked choirs courtesy once again of the Nashphilharmonic. It's a country hymn to everything that has passed away except for the burden of inspiration to do what's right. The disc closes with a reprise (of sorts) of its opener. But "Juble Lee's Revival Shout" is no gospel song; it's a small, bleak testament to the most intimate kind of loneliness -- the kind found in the mirror at the end of the day. It's a chilling way to end a record that began so tenderly, so simply, if not optimistically. But that's Newbury. The most horrible truths are the ones that are gorgeously told to us by sages and well-meaning hucksters, and he's both. It is a truly awesome and off-putting finish.

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