It’s time to dig deep a little again. Time to pull off the beaten track and explore what there is to offer away from the Hot Country Songs chart or the Music Row release schedule. We’re miles away from the annual debate into C2C line ups and UK tours. A totally blank canvas where you can listen to an album without any pre-conceptions or prejudices.
There are plenty of options. A quick glance at the Texas Regional Radio Report will open new horizons. Most are independent. The current top 3 performers are Bri Bragwell, Jerrett Zoch and Rich O’Toole.
Parker McCollum currently resides at 25 with ‘I Can’t Breathe’. Save for emphasising that there is much to be heard outside Nashville and the Bobby Bones playlist, the chart running order doesn’t matter a jot. Rich O’Toole’s ‘God and George Strait’ is a fine song by the way.
Parker McCollum has been building up to this album for most of his adult life. It might be a little strong to suggest that he was a child protégé but it doesn’t appear that his mind was set upon anything other than a musical career. He was appearing at local gigs in Texas when he was 16 and migrated to Austin from Houston to attend college.
He released his first single when he was 21 and his first album ‘The Limestone Kid’ in 2015 when he was 23. That album title emanated from his nickname earned by working summers on a ranch in Limestone County, Texas. It was warmly received and enabled him to secure a gig at Larry Joe Taylor’s Texas Music Festival and an award for T-Birds Songwriter of the Year. Not too shabby for a new artist.
‘Probably Wrong’ is the follow up. It was released as two separate EPs conveniently named ‘Probably Wrong Volumes One and Two’. Both came out in late summer. The album combines the two and adds two new tracks. It’s a risky venture. It’s huge duplication for his core fans with no promise of attracting a new audience.
The pattern was set by John Mayer who also released ‘The Search For Everything’ in instalments. It’s a sure way of maintaining interest in a new artist as their name hardly falls off the Facebook timelines. And it seems to have paid off. His spotify monthly listeners have increased three-fold and he seems to be playing to healthy crowds on his album-supporting tour. He may be operating in a relatively small pond but this guy’s becoming a big fish.
He plays most of the instruments himself, writes most of the songs and recruited a Grammy Award-winning producer Lloyd Maines to help out. Not bad for someone who has no major label backing. He operates independently on his own label PYM Music.
If we attempt to treat this as a traditional, straightforward country record we will probably ruffle a few feathers. It’s a hybrid mix of pop, country, rock and piano-driven soul, but all with a great quality and diversity. Collectively, it’s a satisfying listen with melodies that should appeal to the new audience that his music hugely deserves.
We often deride the modern approach to country music with its R&B-flavoured productions and the synthesised drum patterns, however diversity can be achieved without compromising the culture.
Parker McCollum is a young guy who has grown up with influences provided by the songwriters who invaded his musical spectrum. Steve Earle, Todd Snider and Rodney Crowell. His approach was to produce an album that is steeped in the traditions of Texan music but with the necessary hooks and melodies that will appeal to the younger audiences.
Piano plays a huge part in the construction of these songs and the album’s better for it. There’s also a healthy use of pedal steel, which, in a progressive new artist, is a way forward for our genre. ‘Memphis Rain’ opens the project. It’s upbeat and uplifting and reminiscent of Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen at their rocking best.
‘South of The City Lights’ introduces a touch of southern blues into the mix and ‘Lonesome Ten Miles’ is another that is destined to shine in the live dancehalls of Texas.
‘I Can’t Breathe’ was the first featured single. It’s a haunting piano ballad born from a broken relationship which tends to be the catalyst for the best country songs. ‘Things Are Looking Up’ starts as a piano-led shuffler that keeps the toes tapping and develops into a wonderful 3-minute jam. Just the sort of material that Jools Holland would adore on his show here in the UK.
They say that a true measure of the quality of an album can be gauged by the last track. The last track on Parker McCollum’s album is the awesome ‘Hell Of A Year’ which is a contender for one of the album tracks of 2017. A song that has an uplifting title but actually describes a relationship that has failed and had to be erased. He describes it as the hardest song that he has ever written. It’s certainly his best.
‘Probably Wrong’ is an album that has no label throwing masses of cash into promotion and exposure. It will have to grow generically by word of mouth. Don’t let this one slip through the net.