The Parson Red Heads are re-releasing their record Yearling a year and some change after its original appearance – apparently the same length of time it took to record in the first place, lending the referential title a little bit of extra potency. With some additional tracks to fill out this “deluxe edition” of a record that didn’t make much of a splash, it’s as if the band is trying again, saying “No, really, you should check this out.” And hey, they’re right.
With the funniest looking ginger kid on the cover since Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk, Yearling is full of airtight songs put to good use with steady-handed performances. Also hailing from the Northwest, the Parsons aren’t quite Band of Horses, but they do offer a similar form of soaring rusticism and harmony-laden introspection. Linchpins of 1980s jangle Chris Stamey (the dB’s) and Mitch Easter (co-producer of early R.E.M.) helmed the recordings, putting everything in exactly the right spot and giving each melodic figure its own clarity. Their well-tempered production work nurtures the band’s latent pop sensibilities, allowing them to be unwittingly catchy without the slightest bit of artifice. And when they want to muscle up a bit of punchy guitar power, as they do on the joyously in limbo “Kids Hanging Out”, they have the tools to do so with panache.
From spirited opener “Burning Up the Sky” through the imperceptible transition into the just-as-good bonus cuts, there’s a remarkably assured consistency to the material, which gives the Parsons a leg up on much of their modern-day competition. While bands like their recent tourmates Blitzen Trapper turn out relatively spotty albums that beg obvious comparisons to their forbearers, Yearling hits the mark completely on its own steam and maintains its charm all the way through.
The band makes good use of that particular tone of affirmation-by-way-of-humble-resignation, facing down heartache of one kind or another across far-reaching landscapes, setting suns and passing time. Singer Evan Way’s modest, unassuming poeticism espouses a sort of deliverance via emersion in the natural elements, seeking solace in what is out of one’s control (“Banking on the Sun”, “Peace in the Valley”). This hard-won optimism looks back just as much as forward and is always bittersweet: “Hold on / Don’t you say all the good days are gone.”
A clear focal point on Yearling is the changing nature of relationships between people, made all the more poignant by the fact that in the band, Way is surrounded by his wife and good friends. “Can we try again next year?” they ask on the first additional track, as they take one hell of a shot at doing just that. It’s high time to take the Parson Red Heads up on their excellent batch of honest-to-goodness.