Artist: Parker Millsap
Album: The Very Last Day
Label: Thirty Tigers
Release Date: 03/25/2016
At the tender age of 22, Parker Millsap has accomplished quite a bit in a very brief career. His eponymous debut turned quite a few heads in high places, reaping him honors as a contender for Americana Emerging Artist of the Year, along with praise from the likes of the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and NPR. Those are no small accomplishments for a young boy just barely out of his teens, and raised in a relatively remote region of the heartland no less. It’s little surprise then that Millsap opts to maintain that aw-shucks, unpretentious attitude for his sophomore set, an album that suggests his ties to mid-America are more than a mere facade.
Indeed, despite its auspicious title, The Very Last Day is an album that’s steeped in tradition, draped in sepia tones and imbued with archival trappings. It’s frayed around the edges, but deliberately so, its rustic tones well in keeping with its bluesy attitude and swampy sensibilities. Millsap makes music with a cinematic sweep, a sound that recalls Woody Guthrie’s dustbowl narratives and his tattered tales of simple working people plagued by darker designs and a sense of impending doom. Optimism is in short supply, but pessimism has yet to take over completely. Yet within in each of these songs and stories, the struggle to avoid capitulation becomes the common thread. No matter whether it’s the tangled trappings of opening track “Hades Pleads” or the final anguish of the song that caps the conflict, “Tribulation Hymn,” Millsap makes no apologies for those whose tales are told. “Ain’t no sweet chariot is gonna come for to carry everybody home,” he moans on the title track, affirming the fact that the aforementioned very last day is indeed well close at hand.
Despite the weighty suggestion that gives these tunes their bearings, the music is surprisingly simple, stripped of everything other than traditional trappings. Fiddles flail while guitars wail, making songs such as “Pining,” “Morning Blues” and “Jealous Sun” sound less like fitful expression and more like rambling Appalachian folk songs. Millsap stays true to the template, and the fact that all but one of these offerings come from his own pen — the exception being the old blues standard “You Gotta Move,” famously covered by the Rolling Stones — affirms the lessons learned from his Oklahoma origins.
Ultimately, The Very Last Day makes no attempt to gloss over those tenuous trappings. That’s not exactly a formula that’s going to win over the masses. Still, Millsap deserves credit for sharing his sentiments without remorse or reservation, making this particular doomsday scenario one that’s well worth heeding.
– Lee Zimmerman