Parker Millsap hasn’t gone full Taylor Swift, but like Tay Tay, the 24-year old Oklahoman has moved on from country to pop. While this may be surprising, it’s not shocking. What musician wants to be put in a box and limited to one genre? As the old adage goes, there are only two types of music, good and bad, the rest is just marketing.
The new Millsap is not radically different than the one on his first three studio albums. His distinctive Sooner accent and way of phrasing a line heavily at the front end remain. The self-penned songs are still largely concerned with capturing strange states of spiritual and emotional well-being. He has always written in a variety of tempos and styles from ballads to rave ups. There is still a heavy fiddle presence, but the instrumentation and production are more varied on the aptly titled Other Arrangements. This comes off more as window dressing then a drastic change. Existing Millsap fans will still find plenty to love here.
And hopefully this will attract those who were previously put off by Millsap’s songs about preachers, rural life, and the backroads. Millsap may have provided telling details, but these specifics always worked as metaphors for life’s bigger questions. He still writes about such themes, such as on the beat heavy “Let a Little Light In” except now the songs sounds as if he recorded it in the ring during a boxing match instead of at the studio with a microphone. “Not every day is a fight to win,” he proclaims while sparring with existential dilemmas. The fundamental truth persists as a mystery.
Tracks from Other Arrangements
Millsap’s voice has always been a flexible instrument, but he really puts it to the test here on songs like “Tell Me” which at times seems to purposely echo Janis Joplin’s version of “Tell Mama”. He sings the blues with gusto Millsap. And when he growls about others on “Some People” and notes “Some people gotta hate / Some people can’t be nice” the differences between he and Swift are clear. She may be clever and snarky, but she has a sweet veneer. Millsap assumes a tougher bravado and delivers his lines with a sneer.
He can be tender. His duet with Jillette Johnson on “Come Back When You Can’t Stay” offers a wry look at indiscretions and complications. Wanting and not wanting something are merely two sides of the same coin. Millsap and Johnson suggest the acceptance of mixed emotions is in itself a profound kernel of wisdom. And on “Singing to Me”, Millsap quietly praises the still small voice in the back of his head. He understands how focusing on where one is can get lost in the noise of the daily grind.
Millsap’s vocal skills continue to take center stage. The new sounds on the disc: drum loops, synthesized sounds, etc. pale in importance to the way in which he puts the material across. He can make simple lines one has heard many times such as “I was busted. I was broke” ring with authenticity through his expressive twang. Millsap may not have Swift’s reputation and his break from his country past is not much of a repudiation of it, but Other Arrangements reveals the depth and range of Millsap’s singing talents in his search for a bigger audience.