Birds show up in many songs as symbols of fragile creatures that yearn to be free. Parton uses the sparrow in this song to relate to a woman who has been wronged by her lover.
Bertrand - Paris, France
This is one of Parton's lesser-known songs, but that didn't stop David Cook from performing it on Dolly Parton night during the 2008 season of American Idol. Simon Cowell questioned why he sang a song about a sparrow, but said: "If you can make a song about sparrows sound good, which you did, then congratulations."
Parton adapted the Appalachian folk tune "Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies" in this track, and recalled first hearing the ballad in her childhood. She noted in her 2020 book, Songteller: "Mama used to sing a song I think is called 'Fair and Tender Maidens.' I used that whole idea and that whole old-timey sound and feeling for 'Little Sparrow.'"
Elements of the traditional song were first collected in Scotland and published in 1727, and American versions were collected by folklorists in the early 1900s. Several other artists, including Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, The Carter Family, and the trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, have also recorded it under various titles.
Little Sparrow was the second album in Parton's acclaimed bluegrass trilogy, preceded by The Grass Is Blue and followed by Halos & Horns. It went to #12 on both the Bluegrass chart and the Country chart.
The album was nominated for Best Bluegrass Album at the 2002 Grammy Awards but lost to New Favorite
by Alison Krauss and Union Station. Parton did take home a Grammy that night, though, after her rendition of Collective Soul's "Shine
" was named Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
Members of Nickel Creek and the Irish folk band Altan are among Parton's backing musicians on the album. Bluegrass singers Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, Rhonda Vincent, and Claire Lynch also provided harmony vocals.