While some things with the Jewelled Antler crew change, the core stays the same. "Life & Love in Sparrow's Meadow" is easily the most widely available release any of the Antlerbands have had to date. But that's all that has changed. Everything else, the organic forest beauty embodied by Glenn Donaldson and the '60s psych-pop star reincarnated in Donovan Quinn, is the same. "Life & Love in Sparrow's Meadow" is another ethereal journey through the trees and clouds; a magical search for love and the healing warmth of the sun.
Donaldson and Quinn's previous effort, "1000 Bird Ceremony" was as straightforward as anything I'd ever heard come from a Jewelled Antler band. This wasn't to say it was formulaic, but it did have a certain accessibility to it that all music fans could appreciate. What it showed was Donaldson's range as an artist. Within these acoustic walls, The Skygreen Leopards are isolated. They are no longer in this century, but have been transported decades back in time. A simpler time maybe, but one where beauty was something to behold not to sell. These songs are simply beautiful.
"Life & Love in Sparrow's Meadow" is an expedition through the windswept plains and skyrise mountains of a world that only exists in the clouds. This adventure comes full circle, beginning with the heartbreaking "Mother the Sun Makes Me Cry" and ending with the hopeful, "A Child Adrift." The former unifies every image of Donaldson I have into one, collective experience. Bright acoustic plucking with a maracas providing a minimal beat are the grass beneath Donaldson's feet. Quinn follows, offering his insights and support in harmony. As they come to the chorus, their voices rise through the underbrush begging the question, "Will the river ever put out the fire?" It's as if they're not sure what they want the answer to be. Looking back with solemn eyes, they bid their home farewell and begin their journey.
By the time they reach the wildflower meadows of "Careless Gardeners (of Eden)/Sparrows of Eden (Eden Fading)/Drunken Gardners Dance (Paradise Lost Sweetly)," you realize you've been had. Underlying all of these bright, sunkissed tracks is an overwhelming sence of melancholy. These three conjoined pieces are the songs of someone afraid of what lies ahead; afraid that what they are searching for is in vain. In the third part of the track Donaldson wails over organ hymns, singing an ode to his dying love. This album takes on so many faces that it would be easy to get lost and simply give-up. But these two are masters and this album is as cohesive as anything they've ever done.
Once the longing of "A Child Adrift" comes around, you are ready to quit. You are ready to say, "I've had enough. Just take me home." But The Skygreen Leopards have something better planned. The song opens with the same plucked notes as "Mother the Sun Makes Me Cry." It's a subtle gesture, but it goes a long way to wrap the album up perfectly. It is appropriate and poetic that the search ends where it begins. It's a lesson to be learned: the things we are looking hardest for are often the things right in front of us. It's as if Donaldson and Quinn are gently nudging you on the shoulder saying, "Look around and appreciate this beautiful world that surrounds you."
I am not a religious person by any means, but there is no doubt that "Life & Love in Sparrow's Meadow" is a spiritual listening experience. This beautiful album shattered all expectations I had and shows that this duo is a constantly evolving phenomenon. Some things change, some things stay the same. In the end, Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn lead you to the conclusion that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is that which surrounds you. Beauty is all that nature has made. 9/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)