Reviews, Interviews and More

The Daily County Essential 8

In 2016, Singer, pianist, and songwriter Joyann Parker's debut album, On The Rocks, garnered national and international attention, landing on the Roots Music Report's Top 100 Blues Albums chart and being nominated for an Independent Blues Music Award for Best New Album. Now the accomplished artist is prepping the release of her new album, Hard to Love, on  April 13th and here she answers her Essential 8 and talks songwriting, 80's music, Beth Hart, and much more. 

Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?  
All inspiration for me comes from life, be it my own, my friends or family or just a stranger I may overhear in a coffee shop on the road somewhere. I am a storyteller at heart and I weave them all together from real human experiences. That is why I think they are so relatable, because they are genuine. I am a very empathetic person and I feel energy around me, whether it be from people or even the building I happen to be in. Those energies give me insight into those people and places which then inspire songs. I’m not particularly good at writing about something that I’m not passionate about. 
When/where do you do your best writing? 
I write everywhere and anywhere. I’m a very busy mom of 2 when I’m not doing all the other things in my life, so alone time is sparse. Inspiration strikes at the craziest times. One of the songs on my first album was written in my car while driving with my kids in the backseat.  I told my phone to record and made an extremely rough recording, so I could remember the tune later on when I had time to write it down. 

Why did you choose to anchor the album with the songs you did? 
A lot of these songs were written after my second trip to Memphis, TN. I have always loved the Memphis soul sound but after a trip to the Stax Museum I was totally inspired. The next few months I drenched myself in Otis Redding, King Curtis, Carla Thomas, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Staples Singers and the like and wrote a bunch of the tunes you hear on this record.  

I always like to put a few surprises into my albums and shows, so there are a couple of those on the record as well, especially the title track, “Hard To Love.” I love the classic sound of the Great American Songbook and wanted to do a stripped-down version on which I could play piano and show another side of myself.  

​What’s the best advice to give to a musician just starting out? 
Get out and play as much as possible, in your own town and outside of it. Nothing worth having comes easy, so get ready to work hard if you really want to make this your career. Also, get tough. People are going to try and get in your way or stop you completely all the time. Know why you’re doing what you’re doing so when people give you advice you can listen, take the truth from it and then discard the rest. ​ 

What are your “must have” albums for the road? 
Whoever is driving gets to pick the music, but we always seem to agree on any and all Led Zeppelin. If I’m driving, I subject them to a mix of 80’s music including, but not limited to: Hall and Oates, Duran Duran, Billy Idol, The Cult, and Tears for Fears. 

What do you love most about being on the road? 
Reaching new fans with my music. It’s hard to get the word out when you’re not signed to a label or an agency, so I do it by putting boots on the ground and doing it grass-roots style. When you talk to people after the show and they tell you how much your music meant to them, that’s what keeps you going the next 10 hours to the next show. 

Which song of yours gets the best crowd response? 
“Home” has been the one to grab people lately. I wrote it for a friend of mine whose son committed suicide at a young age. It’s a song of hope for those who may be going through a dark time. I use it to encourage those people to ask for help, to reach out and tell someone how they are feeling and what they are going through. Many people come to me and share their stories after they hear it and it’s very moving for me as a songwriter.  That’s why I do what I do. 

Have you met any of your heroes? If so, how did it go? 
​I have been a huge fan of Beth Hart since high school. I stuck around a long time and waited for her after a show in Minneapolis last year and she kindly came out to talk to those of us still waiting (read: stalking) her about an hour after the show was over. She talked to me about my music and gave me some encouraging words and was generally very kind to me. I appreciated that very much.

Michael's Music Log Review of "Hard To Love"


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.”

Tahoe On Stage - Review of "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. 

Joyann Parker 
‘Hard To Love’ 
Release: April 13, 2017 
Standout tracks: ‘Jigsaw Heart,’ ‘Memphis’

Elmore Review of "Hard To Love" 

Joyann Parker 

Hard to Love 

Album Reviews 

 | 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. 

—Jim Hynes