Performers sometimes adopt a stage name as their real name that may be bland, unintentionally amusing or too close to someone else’s (Ryan Adams may have come to terms with there being a Bryan also in the racks of his favorite independent record store, but it can still be tiresome for a fan to have to differentiate between the two in conversation). Some may change their name in an attempt to escape past misdemeanors, though some things can never be outrun.
Parker McCollum has the name of something like a superhero (his parents should be congratulated if they came up with it) and his debut, The Limestone Kid is appropriately valiant, seemingly out of nowhere. McCollum has in fact been working his mojo in preparation for some years, and the somewhere he has sprung from is not nowhere but Texas, a state which has produced a long line of musicians adept at Americana, including such greats as Joe Ely, Townes Van Zandt, Alejandro Escovedo and Ryan Bingham.
Limestone is not just a sedimentary rock but also a county in Texas, originally a world of cowboys and Indians, now (mostly) substituted by farmers and ranchers. As such, you would probably expect some western influence, but the possible self-mythology of the title The Limestone Kid is still a daring move for a first record. McCollum more than gets away with it, because this youthful, spirited album greatly evokes a widescreen, adventurous landscape, and the music is mighty fine.
“Happy New Year” opens on a downward path, but still takes optimism from heartbreak, with a freedom to roam dirt roads through the woods. It’s a startling and original beginning due to the song’s dramatic arrangement (particularly enhanced by some swish piano from Charlie Magnone) and a bold opening statement of confidence: “Darlin’ since you left, I been living good.” With hard-boiled attitude but poetic lyrics (“A brand new ball gown glitter and gold / Linens fine and pressed for sleeping late”), it’s an ambitious, portentous start to a career.
And there’s much more worthy of note. “Meet You in the Middle” charms with a hopeful Casanova’s twangy wit of “Chasing dreams that you’d been dreaming / Loving boys you’d never met”; “All Day” re-creates the feel-good factor of a one-night stand with the town’s “sweetest heart”. This is a record easy to give in to, fitting somewhere between modern Americana and more traditional country. McCollum writes most of the songs on the album, save “Prohibition Rose” (by Parker’s brother, Tyler, and here performed with some flashy pedal steel) and the weary “Galveston Bay” (by Austen Biggers, recorded with some artful country fiddle).
Despite the well-worn genres McCollum has selected to explore, he successfully walks a fine line between sincerity and cliché, and avoids falling into mawkishness. Most songs contain some sort of declaration of intent; in “Silhouette” he proclaims that “Who I was ain’t who I am / I swore I’d do the best I can,” and in “High Above the Water” he decides he’d “Rather die alone from something that I chose / Go out in style / Go out on fire.” The band play with depth and proficiency, avoiding any signs of debut nerves, and clearly enjoy themselves in the studio on up-tempo tracks like “Who’s Laughing Now”. As well as some fine musicianship, McCollum’s singular raffish style and lyrical dexterity ensure this is a distinctive debut from a new and talented kid on the block.