Parmalee are a band who haven’t had it easy in their careers so far. They released their debut album, ‘Feels Like Carolina’ back in 2013. That album yielded three top ten singles but it has taken the Thomas brothers and their compatriots four years to follow that up and the landscape within Country music has changed a lot since then. Bro-Country has come and gone, Sam Hunt is re-writing the rule book and Chris Stapleton’s brand of blues addled Southern music is shifting albums at a record rate – so just where do the band fit into that picture now and what is their place within it? ‘27861’ feels like a fresh start for a band that has seen its fair share of drama – how many bands do you know that have been involved in a shooting? The numbers themselves are the zip code for the band’s hometown of Parmele and each member has them tattooed upon themselves somewhere. The band have also worked with quality writers such as Hillary Lindsey and Ross Copperman this time around, in an effort to return with a bang and it’s fair to say that a number of songs on ‘27861’ pack enough of a punch to satisfy existing fans whilst opening themselves up to the new crowd, on both sides of the Atlantic, that didn’t exist when Parmalee were peddling their trade first time around. There are flaws here though and generic touches that pervade across the album, leaving ‘27861’ an admirable yet confusing listen.
The first thing to note is that many of the songs on ‘27861’ follow that popular modern pattern of programming where the verses are relatively quiet but the choruses huge. Lead single ‘Sunday Morning’ is a prime example of that. It is a strong song with a good melody but ultimately predictable in what it does. Luke Bryan / Cole Swindell style programming means it will play well with the modern fans of what I term ‘NightClubCountry’ ™ but not necessarily with anyone looking for a bit of originality. Similarly, ‘Back in the Game’, with its use of synth and programming, the moodier verses and big choruses echoes exactly the same as ‘Sunday Morning’. Later in the album tracks like ‘Drink it Off’ are structured exactly the same – great songs to listen to in a nightclub but predictable and a little generic.
Where Parmalee do succeed is on tracks like ‘American Nights’ and ‘Heartbreaker’. Placed at 2 and 3 on the tracklisting they get the album off to a strong start. ‘American Nights’ has a nice vocal opening and a tasteful, catchy guitar riff. Yes, the lyrical tropes are familiar as Matt Thomas trundles through a number of stereotypical ‘American’ images but a big chorus offers redemption as you can’t help but sing along. ‘Heartbreaker’, possibly the stand out track on the album has the most original and unusual melody I’ve heard in a Country song in a while and there are almost echoes of a ‘From Dusk ‘til Dawn’ sound in its opening as it then transitions into something resembling a Maroon 5 anthem by its chorus. Thomas Rhett would kill for a song like this and I hope the band send it to radio sooner rather than later as it could be the song that sells the album. Other original moments of quality include ‘Like a Photograph’, vaguely reminiscent of Nickelback in places, it has a strong melody and whilst it does ape the generic ‘quieter verse, big chorus’ pattern of some of the other songs there is enough about this song and its infectious melody for it to stand on its own.
‘27861’ possess a couple of tender, quieter, piano driven ballads that break up some of the homogeneity. ‘Savannah’ begins all ‘Walking in Memphis’ with its piano start as Thomas sings about a girl from Georgia with a ‘sweet little southern drawl’. It breaks out into an interesting chorus that sounds eerily like Pat Monahan in his guise as lead singer of Train, but again, the originality is refreshing. Album closer, ‘Roots’ sees the band re-affirming the idea that it is important to be grounded in reality and understand where you come from in order to move forward. Lovely piano, nice harmonies and more laid back 70’s programming, popular these days in the music of artists like Thomas Rhett and Midland, sees the album finish on a high.
Nowhere on the album is that current trend for the 70’s more in evidence than on ‘Mimosas’. Imagine Jake Owen jamming with Nile Rodgers sometime back on a Sunday in 1973. ‘M…..M…….Mimosas, we got a sunny day to make the M……M…….most of’, Thomas sings in full chilled out mode as the Saturday night hangover is gradually taken care of on a boozy Sunday morning. It’s an interesting song but I can’t help but feel I’ve heard it all before. I can’t put my finger on who started this current obsession with 70’s programming in modern Country music but it’s becoming a well-trodden and over used technique.
And that brings us to ‘Hotdamalama’. I’m not even sure what a ‘Hotdamalama’ is to be honest but it is this song that has caused me the most angst in this review. It begins thus – ‘She got that delta donk, she got that drop the hammer.’ What? Hang on a minute, isn’t this 2017? Is it still OK to open a song up with a reference to a women’s ass? Didn’t Maddie and Tae come along and show everyone that Bro-Country and its objectification of women was both embarrassing and wrong? Did Parmalee not get that memo? This ain’t 2013 no more boys! Further investigation of the lyrics, in what is actually quite a rowdy, rocking song uncovers this gem. “She got them show enoughs, coming in runner up, Panama City wet T shirt, Mrs banana boat, boat, motorboatin’.” WTF????!!!!!! Hells bells, Shakespeare must be turning in his grave. We started on her ass and now we be loving them boobies!! I can feel my brain cells dying slowly, one by one.
Surely Country music is better than this? Surely some female relative of Parmalee must have heard this and objected to it? Or maybe I’m just being a liberal snowflake but this is infantile, adolescent rubbish that not only degrades women but shames the band too, for thinking that this is an appropriate format in which to sing about women in such a way. The wives and girlfriends must be proud? I know, I know, before the anti-PC brigade come down on me like a ton of bricks and tell me to loosen up, it’s just a song and there are plenty of Country songs out there that objectify both men and women and I should just chill but I’m tired of listening to songs about women’s asses and their tan legs and their sexy dancing. Country should be better than this, it should have more dignity and more class. The greats, like Cash and Merle and King George were often bemused by women and sang about confusion and gender differences but ultimately you knew that they respected women, valued and loved them. Country has lost that respect in many places. There are still artists out there, like Brad Paisley, who write beautifully about gender differences, often with humour but always with respect but this type of rubbish is like ‘Love Island’ in a song – low class, low dignity, low value.
‘27861’ has some cracking songs on it. It has some generic songs on it and it has one truly awful mis-step that I hope doesn’t come to haunt the band. Who knows, ‘Hotdamalama’ may become a crowd favourite and I will be a lone dissenting voice in the dark. It won’t put me off listening to this album, that’s the beauty of how we listen to music these days, I can just remove it from my playlist and concentrate instead of listening to quality songs like ‘Heartbreaker’, which I think could be a big radio smash and ‘Savannah’ which shows off a completely different side to the band, something I think that is going to be crucial to them going forward if they are going to distinguish themselves above a lot of the acts currently trying to make that step up into the Nashville major leagues in 2017. It’s a crowded market out there so let’s hope ‘27861’ enables Parmalee to make that leap forward, to find that niche and to grow their fan base so it doesn’t take them another four years to release album number three.
Twitter – @rockjames