Reviews, Interviews and More
When I reflect on the joys writing about roots music bring me, I can itemize many elements that inject pleasure in my life. Among them, and perhaps in the Top 3, is that in writing about music in the way I do—off the mainstream grid, without the day-to-day constrictions more widely read writers must traverse—I am exposed to musicians doing their thing within similar circumstances.
In this way and over the last two decades I have been exposed to ‘local heroes’ I might never have heard otherwise, be they John Paul Keith, Jay Clark, Brigitte DeMeyer, Jeffrey Halford, James Reams, Murder Murder, Diana Jones, and too many more to mention. Along the way, my definition of roots music has expanded to include more than ‘fools on stools,’ roots rock, and bluegrass.
So after a few hundred newspaper columns, dozens of bluegrass radio broadcasts, and likely a thousand or so reviews and posted ramblings, Joyann Parker comes to my attention.
The immense, propulsive bass notes that open the album are the first hint that we are in for a treat with Hard To Love, the Minneapolis singer’s second album. Promising that, “By the time I get to Memphis, you’ll be gone,” Parker (producer, guitar, piano, and trumpet) wastes no time establishing her power as a vocalist and bandleader. Her blend of blues and roots includes plenty of Memphis-Muscle Shoals spirited soul, and with just a hint of country in her voice, Joyann Parker is perfect for those of us who have come to appreciate music originating from the south. “I got to keep on rolling on down,” she sing as a bridge to the album’s opening track, “Memphis” and for the next forty-five minutes, she doesn’t let up.
If that wasn’t enough, she next slides into “Envy,” a slick and sassy Dusty Springfield/Marlena Shaw styled workout: Parker is taking no prisoners. Buoyed by a killer-tight band—Mark Lamoine (co-producer, guitar, and background vox), Tim Wick (piano and organ), Michael Carvale (co-producer and bass), and Alec Tackmann (drums and percussion), Parker asks the eternal question: “Do you love her like you love me?” One gets the sense the answer isn’t going to much matter: she is moving on!
Like the best soul-enriched blues, Hard To Love contains tales of trouble, misplaced devotion, and broken vows and shattered hearts. Some songs simmer with desire (“Jigsaw Heart” and “Home”) while other songs shade their passions behind a danceable beat that few this side the late Sharon Jones can manage (“Dizzy”,for example). Like the best of songwriters, Parker takes her experiences and threads them through those of others, creating relatable songs containing universal truths.
And, you can dance to it! Without attempting to sound retro, Parker brings to mind rarely encountered Stax artists including Barbara Stephens and Linda Lyndell on groovers such as “Who What When Where Why” and “What Happened To Me,” while “Bluer Than You,” “Hard To Love,” and “Evil Hearted” take more subtle tracts. New Orleans sounds are explored in the free-spirted “Ray” and the lively “Your Mama.”
Alongside other ‘big voices’ such as Ann Vriend, Erin Costelo, and Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar (speaking of local heroes) Joyann Parker has become an immediate Fervor Coulee favourite. Love it!
Joyann Parker has the look of a blues singer who would thrive in a smoky lounge late at night. Looks can be deceiving as her voice has a soulful quality that fuses the two styles together. She brings that duality to her new album titled Hard To Love.
Parker keeps it fairly simple and her approach is more emotional than flashy. She is backed by a basic foursome of guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums with some horns on one of the tracks.
She has an advantage over many of her contemporaries in that she writes her own material with guitarist/producer Mark Lamoine. Songs such as “Bluer That You,” “Evil Hearted,” “What Happened To Me,” and “Take My Heart And Run” tell personal stories that resonate with the world around her.
Sometimes a career is completely different than you expected. Take that of singer Joyann Parker from Minneapolis. She is a classically trained pianist, but after her ears came into contact with the soul sounds of the famous Stax label and later also added blues, she decided to invest in a career as a soul singer. And I dare to be cheeky to predict that we are dealing with a future big star here. In terms of sound I hear the rawness of a female singer like Elkie Brooks and the soul of female vocalists like Joss Stone and Dusty Springfield in her vocals.
On her new album she is assisted by a number of class musicians such as guitarist Mark Lamoine, bassist Michael Carvale, pianist and organist Tim Wick, drummer Alec Tackmann and Gunhild Carling on various wind instruments. The album is like a house! A very soulful home!
Opener Memphis is a bluesy song in which some country influences can also be heard. The filthy slide work by Mark Lamoine also gives the song a Southern rock sauce. After a bluesy guitar intro Envy continues as a loom grooming soul song in a style that would fit Joss Stone. So with echoes from the past of Ann Peebles or Betty Wright. Mark Lamoine excels again with his Steve Cropper-like game. Home is a soul ballad in the best Otis Redding ( I've Got Dreams To Remember ) style with Joyann's warm bluesy voice as the cornerstone. Dizzy has a cheerful Motown soul rhythm that is sustained by the driving bass. In the intimate ballad Jigsaw Heartsoul and blues are mixed well.
Who What When Where Why is a light-hearted funky soul song with an angular Stax rhythm. The horns give the song a New Orleans feeling. After the polished soul of Bluer Than You , we march into New Orleans on an angular drum rhythm and continue to frolic around funky. Evil Hearted is a softly floating jazzy soul song in which the organ waves and the bluesy guitar and vocals go well together. Take My Heart And Run draws more towards country blues, partly due to the rusty slide sounds. Chuck Berry influences in the intro of What Happened To Me, a nice frivolous pumping rocker with constantly popping up Chuck Berry licks.
This impressive soul album is very stylishly finished with the jazzy piano ballad Hard To Love.
The name Joyann Parker was a new one to me when her newest CD, Hard To Love (Hopeless Romantics Records) arrived in my mailbox. The quality of music on this disc sent me scurrying to Ms. Parker'swebsite to find out where she's from (the Twin Cities) and whether she's recorded before (yes, she has a previous CD called On The Rocks). She's a powerful sassy, soulful singer who also plays guitar, piano and trumpet, and wrote all 13 of the songs on Hard To Love.
The album starts out with a mid-tempo soulful blues, "Memphis," featuring strong slide guitar from Mark Lamoine. Ms. Parker really shines on the next cut, "Envy," where her tortured vocals cry out about her man seeing another woman. Her voice just plain soars through the octaves throughout this one. and it's easy to feel the pain that she's trying to convey.
Even better is the gospel-ish soul number "Home," with Ms. Parker's voice getting stronger as the song progresses, and we also hear a fine guitar solo from Lamoine. One of the best examples of Ms. Parker's creative songwriting is the sassy blues "Who What When Where Why," on which she asks her man every possible question about his whereabouts and his companions.
She offers another rebuke of her cheating man on "Bluer Than You," on which she shouts out " ... you can hardly wait to make them bluer than you! ... " "Ray" features strong piano work, presumably from bandmember Tim Wick, with a heavy New Orleans second line rhythm.
Ms. Parker flips the situation around on "Evil Hearted," a slow, sultry blues with subtle jazzy guitar from Lamoine. Now it's the woman's turn to break someone's heart.
Hard To Love closes with the title cut, a late-night soulful number with very good tortured vocals from Ms. Parker. She continually reminds us that her man is just so hard to love.
If, like me, you weren't before familiar with Joyann Parker, be sure to search aggressively for Hard To Love. It's a keeper!
--- Bill Mitchell