Joyann Parker, Out of the Dark
(Released Feb. 2021)Joyann Parker and her band have followed up their debut album, Hard to Love (released in 2018) with Out of the Dark, and it’s a work that surpasses its predecessor in almost every way.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Hard to Love remains a solid record—the energy, the songwriting, the musicianship was all there. But something about Out of the Dark just feels more ambitious, everything from the arrangements to the variety of genres that the band explores, along with the sense that the band is pushing itself in new creative directions. There’s no sign of a sophomore slump here.
For those unfamiliar with the Joyann Parker Band, the group consists of frontwoman Parker (lead vocals, guitar, piano), Mark Lamoine (guitar), Brad Schaeffer (bass), and Bill Golden (drums). On this record, they are supplemented by a bevy of horns, strings, keyboards, and backup singers.
The production was helmed by industry veteran Kevin Bowe, whose songwriting and production credits run the gamut from Etta James to the Replacements. Overall, the drums have a solid 1960s vibe, the guitars are crisp without sounding thin, and when Joyann belts it out, you can really hear the vintage saturation on the vocals. And, ultimately, there’s really no getting around Joyann’s voice: it’s surely the centerpiece of the band’s signature sound, which is why it’s great to clearly hear all of the fine-grained dynamics that can get lost when the same song is performed in a live setting (it’s not that studio recordings are necessarily “better” than a live performance, they just have their own unique advantages).
Out of the Dark starts with “Gone So Long”, a slide-guitar slow-burner—which serves as a good segue from their previous record—before jumping into the gospel-flavored funk of “Carry On”, complete with wah-wah guitar and electric clavichord. “Predator”, one of the album’s standout pieces, features a sinuous salsa rhythm to accompany its lyrical subject, and “Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)” sounds so classic that you’d swear it was a Sam Cooke song.
And that’s really the greatest strength of the band. They—or more specifically, songwriting duo Parker and Lamoine—have the remarkable ability to write original material that sounds totally familiar, as if it came from an altogether different era, a time when songwriting was held to a different standard. Every chord change is perfect, and the lyrics brim with wit throughout the eleven tracks.
Part of the charm of the Joyann Parker Band is indeed their retro feel, the sense that you could walk into a juke-joint in the middle of the 20th Century and see a band knocking out tunes in a similar style. But Parker & Co. are not mere conservators of the past. Rather, they are calling back to those older musical styles, while at the same time creating a new energy, one that is both vibrant and fun, and which is just as apparent on the record as it is during a live performance.
—K. C. McKee