I first got familiar with The Parson Red Heads in June when they played a set at The Empty Bottle sandwiched between a local favorite of mine, The Singleman Affair, and singer-songwriter Adela Diane, who, like Parson, is Portland-based.
I never got around to writing about it, but that evening at the Bottle was one of the best nights of music I’ve yet experienced in the 15 or so months I’ve resided in the Chi. Dan Schneider’s Singleman Affair, who I had biked down to see, was as stellar as can be, and I think it took a bit of convincing on the part of Dan’s brother, Jeff, to get me to stick around for the Red Heads and Adela Diane.
Fortunately I did – thank you, Jeff! — and now I’m both reviewing new material by The Parson Red Heads and heading out to see them again tomorrow night at Schubas.
I like to think The Parson Red Heads would’ve been one of those groups that flower children on the ‘60s would’ve smoked up to regularly after a long day on the job. They’ve got a steady, easy sound to them — like a lazy, shimmering brook — that twists and bends some, but without the complexities of other bands I like right now.
Yet don’t make the mistake of confusing “level of complexity” with “skill set,” as they’re mutually exclusive here. In fact, I love how laid back the Red Heads are. Their record plods along comfortably, its smoothness comparable to the sensation of premium craft beer being swallowed on a comfy weekend afternoon.
When I was first digging into Yearling, I drew a rough comparison in my head between their sound and that of Whisker Music, one of my first music loves in the Midwest. It still holds true I think. Whisker’s sound is, relatively, heavier than Parson’s — electric guitar is their most prominent instrument — and yet both bands share a similar sense of handling their music with gentle hands. There’s a conscious effort, it seems, to craft their tunes with care, and then in the live show — as well as on record — to release their little offspring into the wild like the proud parents they are. A Whisker Music/Parson Red Heads bill would make a lot of sense, actually.
Parson’s sound mostly relies on two things, really: acoustic guitar and vocals (OK, and a touch of harmonica). All four Parsons put their mouths to the mic — and sometimes at once. These dependencies elicit images of the group jamming in a manicured field, with onlookers seated, Indian style, in a circle. Lovely, yeah?
Below, the video for Yearling opener “Burning Up the Sky,” released late last week:
“Burning Up the Sky” by The Parson Red Heads:
- The Parson Red Heads, based in Portland, is Evan Way (songwriter, vocals, guitars), Brette Marie Way (drums, vocals), Sam Fowles (guitars, vocals, songwriter) and Charlie Hester (bass, vocals).
- Yearling is available on the Parson Red Heads’ online shop for $12.
- They’ll join Viva Voce Monday at Schubas for a 9 p.m. gig. Tickets are $10.