Parker Millsap - Other Arrangements - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Parker Millsap - Other Arrangements

by Mark Moody Rating:7 Release Date:2018-05-04
Parker Millsap - Other Arrangements
Parker Millsap - Other Arrangements

Oklahoman Parker Millsap has had quite a run early in his music career.  His last two albums both reached #1 on the U.S. Americana chart and somewhat bizarrely for essentially being a folk artist up to this point, he managed to get Elton John in the audience for one of his club shows in Atlanta.  John was quoted as saying essentially that seeing Millsap restored his faith in music.  I’ve seen Millsap live before as well and though I have yet to lose my faith in music, his mix of folk, blues, and gospel sounds along with his live set energy definitely have restorative powers.  With that as a bit of backdrop on his early trajectory, what better time to hit the brakes and change course.  Maybe not a total departure, but the title of his latest album, Other Arrangements, describes a shift in musical composition.  In addition to rearranging his approach, we also get other instruments and other themes.  What thankfully doesn’t change is Millsap’s voice which goes down to a low register Blind Willie Johnson growl but with the range of the more contemporary bluesman Jonny Lang.

Whereas his prior releases focused on acoustic instruments and warnings of apocalypse, Millsap comes right out of the starting box here with an electrified burner, ‘Fine Line’.  When he warns he’s “about to start swervin’” he means it literally.  In a fairer world, the crunch of guitars and vocal twists and turns would supplant George Thorogood’s ‘Bad to the Bone’ as everyone’s bar band favorite.  Well, a fairer world and the fact there is a fiddle player in the mix on what essentially turns into a blues shouter.  Kudos to Millsap for adapting his band vs. dumping them in the grease.  Things progress with the gospel tinged ‘Your Water’ and warm folkiness of ‘Singing to Me’ with Millsap’s vocal suppleness carrying the latter.  Employing one of Van Morrision’s best devices, it’s impossible to tell if Millsap is singing to a lover or has a more divine subject on both of these tracks.  The first four tracks close on the bluesy title track which isn’t in fact about his shift in musical style.  All in all a very auspicious beginning when faced with the fear of a proven artist trying something different.

There are some tracks in the middle of the album that tend a little more to a typical blues rock - ‘Let A Little Light In’ and ‘Some People’, but Millsap’s voice carries these better than most could.  The driving ‘Gotta Get To You’ recalls mid-period Texas singer-songwriter Joe Ely.  ‘Coming On’ is another gospel inspired song supplemented with background singers and maybe contains Millsap’s current perspective on songwriting - “just a smile and a strong hook”.  Other back of the album highlights include the spare and simple glow of ‘Good Night’.  The album closes on a sly duet with songwriter Jillette Johnson, 'Come Back When You Can't Stay', which turns into a tribute to not quite a full night’s one night stand.  The blend of Millsap’s and Johnson’s voices are one of those natural mixes that gets the hairs on your arms standing up.

Certainly not as “serious” as his prior efforts it does show someone early in their career trying out some different takes with mixed but mainly positive results.  A half dozen of the tracks will push his already stellar live set even further and someone with Millsap's natural ability is definitely worth following.  Arriving just in time for the Summer, Other Arrangements is a great album to put on at your next backyard barbecue - you’ll have them going from hootin’ and hollerin’ to crying in their beers in a little over thirty minutes.  

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