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Nashville singer-songwriter Tori Sparks stops by Mid City Grill

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


It’s well before noon, and Nashville-based singer songwriter Tori Sparks has already put in a day’s worth of work.

She started with a flurry of returned phone calls and e-mails, all about booking and press, before giving an interview at a local radio station, followed by more business-related stuff. Then she had to pack up and check out of the hotel she stayed at while on tour. “And now, I’m sitting in a parking space talking to you on the phone, and then I have to drive to the next gig” she says, laughing. “It’s not as glamorous as people think.”

But Sparks’ hard work and constant touring is starting to pay off. Magazine’s Harp, Relix and the influential music site popmatters have given rave reviews to her latest album, Under This Yellow Sun (2007). Tinderbox Music wrote that the songs on Under This Yellow Sun feature “…the songwriting skills of someone like Roseanne Cash… (the track) ‘Providence RI’ has Springsteen a la Nebraska or Darkness on the Edge of Town magic about it.” Another track, “Cold War” was featured on Paste magazine’s new music sampler for June (and made it on to Little Brother Radio’s playlist). After being featured on XM Radio Unsigned, she was contacted by Universal France and consequently toured Europe and the U.K.

And on Monday, August 11, Sparks brings her rootsy mix of folk, blues, and rock to the Mid City Grill in Fort Wayne.

Under This Yellow Sun is Sparks second full-length release. Sparks recorded an e.p. while she was a college student in Tallahassee, Florida and caught the attention of a record label. She moved to Nashville and recorded her debut full-length Rivers + Roads (2005), but despite a certain degree of success, things didn’t work out with the record company, and Sparks decided to go her own way. “Essentially, I was doing all the work that a label would be doing for me anyway, albeit with less help,” Sparks says. “So when it came time to release another album, which I really wanted to do, I thought ‘well, a label would do A, B, and C for me, and I’m already doing all that. So I can either say it’s self-released and make it so that no one will actually look at it seriously, or I could just start a label’.”

And that’s what she did, releasing Under This Yellow Sun on her own imprint, Glass Mountain Records. “The label is just me and a website and all the things I do,” Sparks says. “But if I had a little more manpower and some resources and were doing it for other people, it would be the exact same thing as any label would do.”

“Except it would probably be better,” she adds, laughing.

Sparks admits, though, that the business side of things and the constant touring cut into her creative time. “About 90% of what I do is business, and the rest is music, which is really sad but true, because I love writing and playing and recording,” she says. “It’s difficult to find time to be creative.”

When Sparks stops by the Mid City Grill, she’ll be on her own, with no backing band. Besides her music, Sparks is also known for her engaging stage presence. “I started out playing bars and coffee shops, and you just gotta learn how to get people’s attention and make them feel comfortable when you walk on stage,” Sparks says. “Whether they’re there for music or there to drink, it doesn’t matter, they’re still going to be like ‘who are you? Oh it’s a girl with a guitar and lots of hair and big boots. This is going to be like Jewel.’ Even if they like Jewel, they’ve heard it before. So, you joke around with them, try to find a way to connect.”

Musically, Sparks doesn’t sound much like Jewel, or any other young female singer-songwriter you’ve heard. She’s based in Nashville, but she’s hardly country or “new country,” and though you can hear folk influences in her music, it’s not quite that, either. Musically, the songs on Under This Yellow Sun — which was produced by David Henry, known for his work with R.E.M., Ben Folds, and Josh Rouse — range from old school R&B flavored stompers like “Caged Bird” to the sparse, lonely ballad “Providence, R.I.”. Sparks says not being able to fit into an easily defined category has its disadvantages when it comes to, say, booking gigs, but as an artist it doesn’t bother her. “When I moved to Nashville, I remember going to see Lucinda Williams, and she’s one of the only country people I really like,” Sparks recalls “She said ‘they’ll call you confused until you get rich, and then they’ll call you diverse.’ I thought, ‘I’ve got to remember that!’”


Tori Sparks
Mid City Grill
1802 Spy Run Avenue
Monday, August 11

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