Lee Roy Parnell might record for country label Universal South, and he might sing songs about praying with his daughter, and he might have Toby Keith-like facial hair, but he doesn’t really seem to traffic in country music, at least not very much. He’s a soul singer who plays searing blues guitar and writes some very good songs about his life, and there are a hell of a lot of things in this world that are worse than that.
It’s not hard to get to know Parnell. He celebrates simple virtues, but he rarely sings about them in simplistic terms. He wants to make the world a better place by “Breaking the Chain” of violence and cynicism that scarred him as a child, and his voice is raw with emotion as he sings about it. Parnell also makes sure that we know that he roots for the “Old Soul” and the ones with “The Hunger”, over the ones who’ve had it easy all their lives; this Springsteenian love for the underdog goes down nicely, especially when he starts peeling off blistering solos to go with his rich baritone singing.
He’s also, probably, a religious man. On the title song, Parnell says he’s “Got to get back to the well / Drink that livin’ water”. The gospel singers behind him hint that this is a Christian song, and it’s not the only one. But his guitar work indicates that it might just be the mighty Mississippi he’s talking about, and that he’s looking for salvation in rock and roll, which is fine by me, most days.
These songs seem made for blasting at a summer barbecue, and because they are all more interesting and less mawkish than whatever else Kenny Chesney’s going to put out next time. That’s pretty impressive, especially considering that there are two different tracks here celebrating his love for his young daughter. “Daddies and Daughters” lays it on a little thick, perhaps, especially since it features his daughter on vocals. But “That’s All There Is” makes a nice little Zen painting out of just chilling in the back yard chasing fireflies with her and hanging out; you don’t have to be a parent to understand the simple bliss of this song.
He is not the next big thing, but I don’t think he really wants to be. All Lee Roy Parnell does is write great songs, sing them well, and play the hell out of his guitar. Let’s let him do that for a bunch more years.