Album: Poor Old Shine
Label: Signature Sounds
Release Date: 11/05/2016
After ten minutes of Parsonfield’s showcase at Folk Alliance last month, Elmore photographer Mandy Pichler announced, “I think this is my favorite new band!” I wasn’t far behind her, and now having a chance to listen to their album, Poor Old Shine, their star continues to rise.
The band plays modern folk, meaning a bit of folk, a bit of bluegrass, few strokes of rock and a soupcon of pop. Most of the six-man group are multi-instrumentalists, playing the usual folk suspects like guitar, mandolin, banjo and bass, and then they throw in some less-ordinary folk instruments like accordion, drums and saw. Totally off the reservation, however, there’s piano, organ, glockenspiel and vibraphone. I would have been less surprised by a tuba.
That said, Parsonfield harmonizes with the best of them, switching up between solos, duets and full five or six part harmony. Someone once described bluegrass as “folk music on speed,” but although this band has energy to burn, thankfully they never sound frantic, just dynamic.
The first cut, “Weeds of Wildflowers,” addresses the choices we make in life, and what we will leave behind when we’re done: weeds of wildflowers? Upbeat and unsentimental, they address age-old questions without resorting to hackneyed tripe.
I have a few other favorites, among them the deliberate, “Love Song,” a heartbreaker by anyone’s standards. Sung solo with a duet chorus and spare piano accompaniment to deceptively simple lyrics like “No word my heart sings does justice to these things. It’s hard to write a love song.” The song compares well to Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man,” or Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” Another love song (or more appropriately, lost-love song), “Ghosts Next Door” kicks off with the sound of a door opening and closing, and segues into a more traditional folk feel, with accordion (or maybe organ) and delicate guitar picking.
“Tear Down the Stage” pushes my buttons as well, for very different reasons. Playing fast and loose with their usual dead-on harmonies, this barroom ballad rolls along with the same loose vibe and funky piano that made the Band iconic. Regretting advice from teachers, parents and other purveyors of “take the safe road” advice, this song is about not fitting in, moving on and moving up. “Take all of the old gasoline and gold, and feed it to my dreams, the last things I really own.” Great imagery and a fun song, perfectly joined—apparently a Parsonfield specialty.