With the release of his sophomore record, “The Very Last Day,” on March 25, Parker Millsap serves notice that he’s got what it takes to make it in the music business – and then some.
The 23-year-old phenom, who recently relocated to Nashville with girlfriend and band in tow, has followed up his self-titled 2014 album with 10 original powerful, provocative tunes and a soul-stirring cover of the spiritual, “You Gotta Move,” made popular in 1969 by The Rolling Stones.
The songs address a wide range of topics, including an up close and personal look at what could happen if nuclear war broke out, a tune sung by a love-sick devil and a totally surprising take on armed robbery.
“I was living in Guthrie when I wrote a lot of these songs,” Parker explained in a press release. “Oklahoma in the winter looks post-apocalyptic. We don’t have a lot of evergreen trees, and the grass turns brown to the point of colorlessness. Everything just looks like skeletons and grayness.”
According to the release, Millsap’s bleak mood was further enhanced by his reading of Stephen King’s “The Stand,” and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” along with some binge-watching of “The Walking Dead.”
“Some people just want to watch the world burn,” he said. “A lot of the songs I grew up singing in church are about the end of the world, so it wasn’t uncomfortable for me to go there. It’s fun.”
Even on the bleakest cuts, there’s always a sense of play with Millsap. A lack of angst and anger are part of his incredible charm.
Millsap was raised in the Pentecostal faith and began playing guitar and recording in junior high school. Listening to old records and singing in church impacted his vocal styles.
“I was listening to records from the 20s and 40s, and the voices that came out were otherworldly,” he said. I was really attracted to that. At the same time, I grew up doing congregational singing in church – you know, everybody stands up, grabs a hymnal, turns to number 162 and sings ‘I’ll Fly Away’ at the top of their lungs. I learned to sing in that context, where nobody’s listening to you. We are all just singing.”
And sing, he does. His voice is a fresh combination of Howlin’ Wolf and a young Elvis, with some Phil Everly, Jamey Johnson and Chris Stapleton tossed in for good measure. Once you hear him, you can’t forget him, that’s for sure.
The Mississippi Delta Blues fly high on Millsap’s cover of “You Gotta Move.” The arrangement is stripped down to a skeletal slide guitar, a walking bass line and mournful fiddle, with Millsap’s blues-soaked vocals soaring over the top.
In “Morning Blues,” Millsap tips his hat to the late Townes Van Zandt.
Mama, let’s lose
These morning blues. …
When you wake up bruised,
Tie on your flyin’ shoes.
“Flyin’ Shoes” was a staple in Van Zandt’s song catalog. Lyle Lovett performed it at Van Zandt’s funeral in 1997.
Like Van Zandt, surprise, twists and turns are Millsap’s story-telling trademarks.
In “Hands Up,” he tackles the saga of a gas station holdup from the robber’s point of view.
In this case, the criminal is a veteran who served three tours in the desert. If you’re not careful, you’ll get lost in the driving beat and miss this in the lyrics…
It’s hard to find a job when you just can’t pretend
That you never heard a body bag zippin’ up your best friend.
Put your hands up.
As his press release notes, “In the midst of a world so fond of condemnation as entertainment, Millsap offers open-armed love of people and their stories. … His character-driven songs mine deep wells of joy and despair to create gut-punching narratives that are sometimes hellish, sometimes heavenly and always human.”
Perhaps the most profound example of Millsap’s unconditional acceptance of the human condition is found in “Heaven Sent,” a song Millsap wrote for a friend going through a difficult time.
Raised me straight and
Raised me true.
Spent my days becoming you.
Sitting in your second pew.
My spirit spent.
Fell in love on accident.
Wondering just what Jesus meant
When he said all love was Heaven Sent.
The message, along with Millsap’s plaintive vocals and back-ups by Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan, will make you think twice, even if you disagree with the singer’s point of view.
Millsap, who was nominated as Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2014 Americana Honors and Awards, recorded “The Very Last Day” at Dockside Studio in Maurice, LA, where he and the band lived while they were laying down the tracks. He was joined by Mike Rose on bass, Daniel Foulks on fiddle and Paddy Ryan on drums.
In addition to song writing, playing and singing, Millsap co-produced the record with Gary Paczosa (Alison Kraus, The Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton).
“We got to make a record I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to make,” Millsap confessed. “I got to make a really cool album with my friends and I’m grateful.”
For more about Parker Millsap,log on to here.