Spin this record once and you’ll be impressed. Spin it a dozen times and layer upon layer of superior song writing talent will be revealed. Quite remembering that Parker Millsap is just 21 years old can be a tough task as his seasoned vocals and mature approach to music making belie someone at the beginning of what should be a long and fruitful recording career. This self-titled release is actually Parker’s second full length record but is packed full of breakthrough qualities. Musically Parker calls at several ports along the way notably blues, gospel, country, jazz and straight forward singer-song writing fare but rarely lingers long enough to be typecast. What you do discover is that Parker is adept at harnessing all that’s sirenic about roots instrumentation at its combo best. When mixed with his compulsive lyrical musings, the whole album is an edifying listening experience.
The Americana Music Association has already recognised Parker as one of the genre’s emerging talents of the last year and UK fans will have a brief glimpse of him as the opening act on Old Crow Medicine Show’s short tour. However there is so much scope for Parker to follow in the footsteps of fellow young Oklahoma based artists – John Fullbright and Samantha Crain – in cultivating a sizable European following by extensive touring. The ten songs composed to form this optimum offering will serve this mission well if it is on Parker’s radar.
Religion played an important part in the upbringing of Parker Millsap and the topic is a recurring theme throughout the album. Although the spiritual distance between his Pentecostal background and the present has grown wider, the topic and experiences prove a fertile source for his song writing. Lead off track 'Old Time Religion’ had recent exposure as a single release and possesses a haunting explorative feel to it, in contrast to ‘Truck Stop Gospel’ which has more lively rousing beat. However both songs take an almost outside view of their subject with just a little irony in the latter. While on the semi spiritual theme, ‘When I Leave’, complete with harmonica interlude and demo presence, also touches on the subject and houses one of Parker’s most impressive and non- clichéd lines “When I leave maybe I’ll go to heaven. When I leave maybe I’ll go somewhere else.”
Similarities to John Fullbright are liberally found throughout the record, although vocally Parker generally has a more gravelly and earthy tone. The twin tracks ‘Forgive Me’ and ‘The Villain’ follow Fullbright’s winning formula with the first aching in redemption and the second enriched by a soaring verse segment. This latter song was also featured on the OLD RELIGION EP and stakes a good claim to being the album’s standout track. This is closely rivalled by ‘At the Bar’ which edges into country territory with a waltz-like sentiment and the killer line “Melancholy melody that’s the place I belong.”
More sentiment follows in the ballad ‘Yosemite’, one of the dream locations Parker wants to take the subject of the song when his winning ticket comes in. Like a couple of other tracks, the input of horns is experimented with but mainly the sound of the record relies on the trusted trio of guitars, fiddle and banjo. A nod to the blues is more prevalent in the closing number where a grainy guitar sound accompanies ‘Land of the Red Man’, a curious and cutting take on his home state with a final remark that it is “better than Texas”. Of the remaining tracks, ‘Disappear’ is a steady number, while ‘Quite Contrary’ has a demo sound to it and a poetic lyrical make up set to traditional rhyme.
Parker Millsap’s second album is defined by an intuitive nature to explore a variety of experiences, feelings and styles within a context of the quintessential Mid-West songbook. Dive deep into this record and sunken treasure will be found in the guise of an artist locked in for a successful future.