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When I reflect on the joys writing about roots music bring me, I can itemize many elements that inject pleasure in my life. Among them, and perhaps in the Top 3, is that in writing about music in the way I do—off the mainstream grid, without the day-to-day constrictions more widely read writers must traverse—I am exposed to musicians doing their thing within similar circumstances.
In this way and over the last two decades I have been exposed to ‘local heroes’ I might never have heard otherwise, be they John Paul Keith, Jay Clark, Brigitte DeMeyer, Jeffrey Halford, James Reams, Murder Murder, Diana Jones, and too many more to mention. Along the way, my definition of roots music has expanded to include more than ‘fools on stools,’ roots rock, and bluegrass.
So after a few hundred newspaper columns, dozens of bluegrass radio broadcasts, and likely a thousand or so reviews and posted ramblings, Joyann Parker comes to my attention.
The immense, propulsive bass notes that open the album are the first hint that we are in for a treat with Hard To Love, the Minneapolis singer’s second album. Promising that, “By the time I get to Memphis, you’ll be gone,” Parker (producer, guitar, piano, and trumpet) wastes no time establishing her power as a vocalist and bandleader. Her blend of blues and roots includes plenty of Memphis-Muscle Shoals spirited soul, and with just a hint of country in her voice, Joyann Parker is perfect for those of us who have come to appreciate music originating from the south. “I got to keep on rolling on down,” she sing as a bridge to the album’s opening track, “Memphis” and for the next forty-five minutes, she doesn’t let up.
If that wasn’t enough, she next slides into “Envy,” a slick and sassy Dusty Springfield/Marlena Shaw styled workout: Parker is taking no prisoners. Buoyed by a killer-tight band—Mark Lamoine (co-producer, guitar, and background vox), Tim Wick (piano and organ), Michael Carvale (co-producer and bass), and Alec Tackmann (drums and percussion), Parker asks the eternal question: “Do you love her like you love me?” One gets the sense the answer isn’t going to much matter: she is moving on!
Like the best soul-enriched blues, Hard To Love contains tales of trouble, misplaced devotion, and broken vows and shattered hearts. Some songs simmer with desire (“Jigsaw Heart” and “Home”) while other songs shade their passions behind a danceable beat that few this side the late Sharon Jones can manage (“Dizzy”,for example). Like the best of songwriters, Parker takes her experiences and threads them through those of others, creating relatable songs containing universal truths.
And, you can dance to it! Without attempting to sound retro, Parker brings to mind rarely encountered Stax artists including Barbara Stephens and Linda Lyndell on groovers such as “Who What When Where Why” and “What Happened To Me,” while “Bluer Than You,” “Hard To Love,” and “Evil Hearted” take more subtle tracts. New Orleans sounds are explored in the free-spirted “Ray” and the lively “Your Mama.”
Alongside other ‘big voices’ such as Ann Vriend, Erin Costelo, and Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar (speaking of local heroes) Joyann Parker has become an immediate Fervor Coulee favourite. Love it!
Joyann Parker has the look of a blues singer who would thrive in a smoky lounge late at night. Looks can be deceiving as her voice has a soulful quality that fuses the two styles together. She brings that duality to her new album titled Hard To Love.
Parker keeps it fairly simple and her approach is more emotional than flashy. She is backed by a basic foursome of guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums with some horns on one of the tracks.
She has an advantage over many of her contemporaries in that she writes her own material with guitarist/producer Mark Lamoine. Songs such as “Bluer That You,” “Evil Hearted,” “What Happened To Me,” and “Take My Heart And Run” tell personal stories that resonate with the world around her.
Sometimes a career is completely different than you expected. Take that of singer Joyann Parker from Minneapolis. She is a classically trained pianist, but after her ears came into contact with the soul sounds of the famous Stax label and later also added blues, she decided to invest in a career as a soul singer. And I dare to be cheeky to predict that we are dealing with a future big star here. In terms of sound I hear the rawness of a female singer like Elkie Brooks and the soul of female vocalists like Joss Stone and Dusty Springfield in her vocals.
On her new album she is assisted by a number of class musicians such as guitarist Mark Lamoine, bassist Michael Carvale, pianist and organist Tim Wick, drummer Alec Tackmann and Gunhild Carling on various wind instruments. The album is like a house! A very soulful home!
Opener Memphis is a bluesy song in which some country influences can also be heard. The filthy slide work by Mark Lamoine also gives the song a Southern rock sauce. After a bluesy guitar intro Envy continues as a loom grooming soul song in a style that would fit Joss Stone. So with echoes from the past of Ann Peebles or Betty Wright. Mark Lamoine excels again with his Steve Cropper-like game. Home is a soul ballad in the best Otis Redding ( I've Got Dreams To Remember ) style with Joyann's warm bluesy voice as the cornerstone. Dizzy has a cheerful Motown soul rhythm that is sustained by the driving bass. In the intimate ballad Jigsaw Heartsoul and blues are mixed well.
Who What When Where Why is a light-hearted funky soul song with an angular Stax rhythm. The horns give the song a New Orleans feeling. After the polished soul of Bluer Than You , we march into New Orleans on an angular drum rhythm and continue to frolic around funky. Evil Hearted is a softly floating jazzy soul song in which the organ waves and the bluesy guitar and vocals go well together. Take My Heart And Run draws more towards country blues, partly due to the rusty slide sounds. Chuck Berry influences in the intro of What Happened To Me, a nice frivolous pumping rocker with constantly popping up Chuck Berry licks.
This impressive soul album is very stylishly finished with the jazzy piano ballad Hard To Love.
The name Joyann Parker was a new one to me when her newest CD, Hard To Love (Hopeless Romantics Records) arrived in my mailbox. The quality of music on this disc sent me scurrying to Ms. Parker'swebsite to find out where she's from (the Twin Cities) and whether she's recorded before (yes, she has a previous CD called On The Rocks). She's a powerful sassy, soulful singer who also plays guitar, piano and trumpet, and wrote all 13 of the songs on Hard To Love.
The album starts out with a mid-tempo soulful blues, "Memphis," featuring strong slide guitar from Mark Lamoine. Ms. Parker really shines on the next cut, "Envy," where her tortured vocals cry out about her man seeing another woman. Her voice just plain soars through the octaves throughout this one. and it's easy to feel the pain that she's trying to convey.
Even better is the gospel-ish soul number "Home," with Ms. Parker's voice getting stronger as the song progresses, and we also hear a fine guitar solo from Lamoine. One of the best examples of Ms. Parker's creative songwriting is the sassy blues "Who What When Where Why," on which she asks her man every possible question about his whereabouts and his companions.
She offers another rebuke of her cheating man on "Bluer Than You," on which she shouts out " ... you can hardly wait to make them bluer than you! ... " "Ray" features strong piano work, presumably from bandmember Tim Wick, with a heavy New Orleans second line rhythm.
Ms. Parker flips the situation around on "Evil Hearted," a slow, sultry blues with subtle jazzy guitar from Lamoine. Now it's the woman's turn to break someone's heart.
Hard To Love closes with the title cut, a late-night soulful number with very good tortured vocals from Ms. Parker. She continually reminds us that her man is just so hard to love.
If, like me, you weren't before familiar with Joyann Parker, be sure to search aggressively for Hard To Love. It's a keeper!
--- Bill Mitchell
Blasting forth defiantly (“You say you’re gonna change/ But I ain’t staying to find out”) with the throbbing “Memphis,” the Minnesota blueswoman throws down a gauntlet and sets a high bar of expectations that the rest of this 13-track album generally meets. It showcases her as a singing, songwriting (with guitarist Mark Lamoine), guitar-playing, self-producing, self-aware powerhouse, but the driving force is unquestionably her voice — a formidable instrument she wields with soul and taste. RIYL Shemekia Copeland and Janiva Magness.
If you want music with a whole lot of soul and passion, music that can move your heart one moment, then move your feet the next, check out the new release from Joyann Parker, Hard To Love. The album features all original material, written by Joyann Parker and Mark Lamoine. The songwriting is strong, with lots of good, memorable lines, like “You go to sleep in the driver’s seat, but you wake up in the trunk” in “Bluer Than You.” Joyann, in addition to lead vocals, plays guitar, piano and trumpet on this release. Joining her are Mark Lamoine on guitar and backing vocals, Tim Wick on piano and organ, Michael Carvale on bass, and Alec Tackmann on drums and percussion.
The album has a strong start with “Memphis,” a good mean bluesy gem about moving on, and saying good riddance to someone and not looking back. “No regrets, no time to spare/Now I’m moving on/By the time I get to Memphis/You’ll be gone.” She sure isn’t shy, or pulling her punches, using phrases like “poison oozing out your mouth,” and belting out the lines, getting the anger out of her system through music and through movement. “Gotta keep on rolling, keep on rolling, gotta keep on rolling on down.” Yes, we all need to keep on rolling. That’s followed by “Envy,” which has a familiar, classic R&B sound and rhythm, with good work on keys. In this one, she misses her previous lover, wondering if he is doing the same things with his new girl that he did with her. “Do you touch her like you touched me/Do you hold her body close to yours as you sleep.” What’s interesting is at the end, she is also wondering about the other woman’s reactions to his love. “Do you move her like you move me/Do her eyes light up with fire when you meet/And does her heart pound in her chest when she hears you speak/And does her soul burn when she hears you sing.” Ah, she still has it bad for this guy, and she seems to think that maybe he still feels something for her.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again here: I need to make a mix CD of songs titled “Home.” I’ve never heard a bad song with that title. And Joyann Parker’s “Home” is no exception. In fact, it’s one of my personal favorite tracks on this CD. It’s a beautiful, moving, uplifting R&B number. “We’re only here, we’re only here for such a short time/But the journey, the journey can feel so long/When life ain’t all that you hoped for/And your whole world, your whole world is upside down.” She concedes that there are troubles, but the song is full of hope. And isn’t that what we need? She delivers an excellent, lively, passionate vocal performance. And I dig that lead guitar part halfway through. This song just gets better and better, building to a powerful ending. (If you’re curious about other songs titled “Home,” check out songs with that title by Ellis Paul, Erica Blinn, Michelle Malone, The Evangenitals, The Spongetones, The Ides Of March, Joe Walsh, Iggy Pop, James Houlahan, Janiva Magness and Anton Fig.)
“Dizzy” is a fun, rockin’ number to get you on your feet. Then Gunhild Carling joins Joyann Parker on horn for “Who What When Where Why,” a groovy and energetic tune about a woman with questions. “Who am I to you/What did you think you were going to do/And when will you ever be free/Where is the life you promised I’d see/And why oh why oh why do I cry/For a guy that keeps leaving me high and dry?” The horn is excellent. I’m also totally enjoying the work on keys. “I keep holding onto you while you’re letting go of me.” And, holy moly, listen to Joyann really giving it all vocally at the end. Yes, this is certainly one of the album’s most enjoyable tracks.
And then we get a song with a great New Orleans flavor, “Ray.” This sound always make me feel good, makes me want to join a second line and dance through the whole city. And this song features more delicious work on keys. “I’m trying to make this work/But you’re really such a jerk/Aren’t you, Ray?” “Take My Heart And Run” is another fun one with a wonderful rhythm, and a raw, immediate, loose sound. And it’s followed by “Your Mama,” a playful tune where the other woman in her man’s life is the guy’s mother. “Tell your mama, your mama she’s got to go/I can’t take her messing with my head no more/Well, you’re my baby, not hers no more.” This tune has a delicious, jazzy vibe. The album concludes with its title track, “Hard To Love,” a slower, pretty number that really focuses on Joyann’s vocals. “They say the best things are free/When it comes to him and me/I paid with my heart early on/The price was high, you see/Because he’s so hard to love.”
People say the blues are “Hard to Love,” but Joyann Parker proves them wrong with her eloquent new album with the same title.
“I’ve been performing for some younger crowds,” Parker said. “They say they don’t like blues. People in general say that. I tell them, ‘I think you do.’ And after I perform something for them, they say, ‘Oh. I love that song.’ I say, ‘That’s blues.’ Every kind of music they like comes from blues. The music in a restaurant, in a movie or TV soundtrack, there’s always a blues tune.”
Parker, herself, is a relatively new blues aficionado. She said the music discovered her.
A classically trained pianist with a degree in music from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, Parker previously sang in church and with a wedding band.
“I didn’t know anything about blues until about four years ago,” the Minneapolis-based artist said. “But then it just clicked. I said, ‘This is what I am supposed to do.’ ”
The door to blues and soul music opened almost accidentally. After singing Aretha Franklin’s soul classic, “Chain of Fools,” at a contest, Parker received an invitation to join a blues band. Accustomed to studying music formally, Parker immersed herself in the blues. “I started going to the blues jams in town, trying to figure out what it’s all about,” she said. “And that was it. It just clicked for me.”
The following year, the band – Joyann Parker & Sweet Tea – won the Minnesota Blues Society’s band competition and in 2015 went to Memphis to represent the blues society and compete in the International Blues Challenge. That experience inspired her to write the songs that appear on “Hard To Love.”
Parker sings in a contralto reminiscent of Pheobe Snow, and she plays piano, guitar and trumpet on the 13-track “Hard to Love.” The songs are co-written by Parker and guitarist Mark Lamoine. It is produced by Parker, Lamoine and bass player Michael Carvale.
There are myriad hues of blue on the full-length album: soul, Memphis, New Orleans, Motown, Delta and rock. New listeners will be thrilled to discover the true blues from Joyann Parker, whose music is easy to love.
‘Hard To Love’
Release: April 13, 2017
Standout tracks: ‘Jigsaw Heart,’ ‘Memphis’
Hard to Love
| April 12th, 2018
Artist: Joyann Parker
Album: Hard to Love
Label: Hopeless Romantics
Release Date: 4.13.2018
There’s some serious singing and musicianship afoot here. Minneapolis-based Joyann Parker is a classically trained pianist with a degree in music from the University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse. She sang in church and in wedding bands before she was struck with the blues-soul muse. It happened serendipitously as she was invited to join a blues band after singing Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” at a contest. She claims to have known nothing about the blues until about four years ago, but knew instantly that it was what she was meant to do. She moved quickly. In 2015 she and her band and album of the same name, Joyann Parker & Sweet Tea, won the Minnesota Blues Society’s band competition and went on to compete in the IBC. That inspired her to write the songs for this CD on which she sings, plays piano, guitar, and trumpet. She wrote or co-wrote all songs, some with co-producer and guitarist Mark Lamoine.
Parker fell in love with the Stax Museum in Memphis, inspiring the album’s first track, “Memphis” (reminiscent somewhat of Shemekia Copeland’s “Never Going Back to Memphis” musically, but very different thematically). “Envy,” a mid-tempo soul tune, also carries a Memphis vibe. “Home,” along with “Jigsaw Heart” and “Evil Hearted” are three simmering B3 driven ballads that are among the best tracks. Parker’s strength is clearly in the ballads, but she does her best to mix it up. “Ray” has a New Orleans feel while “Who, What, When, Where, Why” is an up-tempo danceable R&B. “Dizzy” takes the dancing more in the Motown direction.
Parker seems to base “Take My Heart and Run” on Muddy’s riffs from “Can’t Be Satisfied” and conjures up Chuck Berry for “What Happened to Me.” The piano-accompanied closer and title track sounds like a Broadway tune, as if it came from the great American songbook. One gets the sense that this is the kind of material Parker did before taking on blues and soul. She’s got the pipes and comes across honestly and passionately. Perhaps she could be faulted for too much style exploration though. Nonetheless, she is on firmly planted ground singing the smoldering, slow-burning Stax-like ballads.
This rather youngish sounding singer, with the well worn voice leads you to think she grew up singing the blues or was listening to them all her life; this is not the case at all. In fact she is a classically trained pianist who didn’t know anything about the blues until about 4 or 5 years ago when she and the blues met up and seemed to greet each other as long lost old friends. She seems to take a bit of a journey with the music, and there are stops in Memphis, with the soul displayed in “Envy,” the New Orleans hints of “Ray,”maybe a side trip up to Detroit, but this woman has found the inner meaning of the word SOUL and she has made it her purpose to explore it thoroughly, no matter where it takes her.
Dedication to a new medium is nothing unusual, however her the movement here seems to be strong and she is putting everything on the table and she is showing that her dedication is winning the battle. With her training who knows where it will go to because it seems to be exceedingly strong, and she has swung so far into the camp and the music she is making shows that she is in it for real. This can’t be faked and the possibilities coming out of this are huge. What might be the key here is her piano playing; she is a classically trained pianist with a degree in music from the U. of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She has never played blues but then sang an Aretha Franklin classic,”Chain of Fools” in a contest. She was asked to join a Blues Band, but didn’t know Memphis from Mississippi Hill Country, hesitated and then immersed herself in the music. Loved the emotional honesty, the from the heart aspect, and the rest is history.
The heartfelt passion of the songs is what moves her and sold her on the direction of her music. This disc is produced by Joyann Parker (vocals, guitar, piano, and trumpet), with co-producers Mark Lamoine (guitar and background vocals) and Michael Carvale (bass). She also found a twin soul in co-producer Lamoine who co-wrote all the songs with her. Rounding out the band you have Tim Wick (piano, organ), Alec Tackmann (drums and percussion) with Gunhild Carling (horns on “Who What When Where Why”). She is immersed in the blues and it is now a part of her life, just like breathing and her heart beating. She may have come late to the blues but she is definitely comfortable and very much at home here. The shoes are kicked off and she is very relaxed and very much at home here.