Monday, January 11, 2021

Joyann Parker: “Out Of The Dark” (2021) CD Review

The album title Out Of The Dark carries an optimistic and positive message, one we can all appreciate, for we are all seeking a way out of the darkness that has enveloped the land, a darkness brought by both the pandemic and the existence of a cult of racist and violent imbeciles who have now attacked the U.S. Capitol. We can sense a light coming on January 20th, but that will be just a start. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Music will help us through. Music will be a companion on this crazy journey, and it will help us maintain at least a portion of our sanity. We need music like vocalist Joyann Parker’s new album, Out Of The Dark. This follows her 2018 release, Hard To Love, and like that album, this one contains all original material written by Joyann Parker and Mark Lamoine.  Lamoine also plays guitar on these tracks. Tim Wick once again joins her on piano and organ, and Brad Schaefer is on bass, and Bill Golden is on drum and percussion. The album also features several guest musicians.

The album opens with “Gone So Long,” which eases in with a beautiful vocal section, a soulful humming that pulls us in and unites us, reminding us of the power of the human voice, even apart from language. It is a wonderful way to start the album. This song is a blues tune about how trouble follows us around, and good things can turn bad as we sometimes lose our way. I think we’re all in touch with that feeling. This song, because of Joyann Parker’s vocal performance, has the power of a gospel number. Toward the end, there is a section where her vocals are supported by the kick drum, which is very cool. There is also some good work on guitar. “I’m gone so long/I can’t find my way back home.” It feels that in one way or another we are all trying to find our way back home, particularly these days. “Gone So Long” is followed by “Carry On.” There is a cool, funky edge to this one, but again the power is in the vocals, in the way she delivers a line. Plus, the song has an uplifting vibe in lines like “‘Cause there’s no mountain too high to conquer/No sea too wide to swim/No valley that can’t be forged through.” Hey, we could all use some support and encouragement these days, eh? And some companionship. This track includes some really good backing vocal work too, by Laycey Dreamz and Patricia Lacy. There is a beautiful section with just vocals toward the end.

In the last four years, we have seen the absolute worst this country has to offer, and it has brought out the worst versions of everyone. I had never been so full of hatred and anger as I have been during this administration. So right away I was ready to relate to a song titled “Bad Version Of Myself.” There is a strength in Joyann Parker’s voice even as she sings about maybe one day being strong, and as she delivers lines like “I don’t want to act this way/Feel like I have to change/Why should I care what you have to say.” Another thing I especially love about this track is that work on harmonica by Rory Hoffman. These lines also stand out, for reasons I assume are obvious to everyone by now: “But it’s hard to know what’s true/When my mind is clouded by lies/For now I just keep on this way/Hoping for the day/When I see you for who you really are/You twist reality/Manipulate what I see/So I believe I can only be/This bad version of myself.” Then “What Did You Expect” has a lighter, more fun vibe from the start, and so I’m surprised by the lyrics, such as “Did you think there was a chance I wouldn’t break your heart.” That’s followed by a mellower, prettier number titled “Either Way.” Oh, what a voice Joyann Parker has. There is a moment in this song where she summons more power to deliver the line “Do you need me, I asked,” and at that point I am completely swept up in the music. Isn’t it wonderful when an artist can have that effect? Paul Mayasich plays slide guitar on this track.

We enter a delicious, jazzy realm at the beginning of “Predator,” a song that provides a warning about a particular type of man. “He’s the evilest kind/Comes on so sweet/A devil with an angel’s face/And he’ll distract you with pretty words and a warm embrace.” Dave Foley provides some wonderful stuff on trumpet, contributing a lot to the flavor and style of the track. And in the second half, there is nice lead on keys. That’s followed by “Dirty Rotten Guy,” but this one isn’t a warning about another crummy man. In this totally fun number, she is actually looking for a rotten guy. Part of the fun of this one is Dave Budimir’s presence on trombone. That work on piano is also part of the track’s great appeal, but the song’s main strength is Joyann’s boisterous and spirited vocal performance. Check out these lines: “I’m going to find me a no-good, low-down, dirty rotten guy/He’ll buy me drinks ‘til I’ve had my fill/And he’ll dance with me all night/He’ll have all the good looks, but none of the class.” But by the end, she’s rethinking her desire for a rotten guy. Then “Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)” has more of a classic rock and roll vibe, fitting for the subject of going out dancing, something I miss tremendously. I can’t wait for this damn pandemic to come to an end so we can go out dancing to live music. This track features a wonderful lead by Rich Manik on saxophone.

“Fool For You” has a good, strong groove. In this one, Joyann Parker sings “I’m a fool/And I made my own hell/By loving a man who’s got somebody else/I’m a fool, I’m a fool for you.” Ah, even someone with such a strong and powerful voice can make mistakes, I suppose. There is the question of whether we do actually learn from our own mistakes. “Don’t know if I like where you’re taking me/But I sure am enjoying the ride.” Those lines are a sort of variation on the Grateful Dead’s “I may be going to hell in a bucket/But at least I’m enjoying the ride.” That’s followed by “Hit Me Like A Train,” a tune that rocks, both in its groove and in that vocal delivery. It’s a whole lot of fun. “Hit me so hard, you knocked me off my track/Thought I knew what I was thinking, now I’m rethinking that/Things that used to make sense now I just don’t understand.” The disc then concludes with its title track, which begins with a more somber, introspective tone. “Trouble breathing/Air is getting thin/Back is breaking/Weight is too great to hold.” It is a song about trying to escape, about getting out from one’s own darkness. “So tired of feeling helpless/Sick of being weak.” This album has largely been a fun ride, but she leaves us with one to think about, one that we can connect to on both an emotional and intellectual level. She offers a positive message here: “Forgive yourself for your past/When you were too weak to stand/Let go of the anger/‘Cause there’s a bigger plan/You’re no longer beholden/To what once held you down/And you don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

CD Track List

  1. Gone So Long
  2. Carry On
  3. Bad Version Of Myself
  4. What Did You Expect
  5. Either Way
  6. Predator
  7. Dirty Rotten Guy
  8. Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)
  9. Fool For You
  10. Hit Me Like A Train
  11. Out Of The Dark

Out Of The Dark is scheduled to be released on February 12, 2021.

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