Lee Roy Parnell
Joe's; Tue 14
Lee Roy Parnell had his hit streak on the country charts in the ’90s. Nearly everybody else from that era is either doing matinees in Branson (the Vegas of Missouri) or headed for that: In that direction, Billy Ray Cyrus was last seen recording a duet of “Achy Breaky Heart” with tone-deaf American Idol reject William Hung. The only time recently that we’ve heard from Trisha Yearwood and the now-retired Garth Brooks is when they married each other.
But Parnell, like country traditionalist Marty Stuart, took advantage of his commercial slide to reinvent himself (why not, if radio won’t play him anyway). When he was dropped from Arista in 1999, around the time of his greatest-hits album (the surefire tip-off that his heyday was ending), he reappeared with a more blues-oriented sound, which is still going strong on his new Universal South album, Back to the Well. Parnell’s music always emphasized the connection between country and older R&B, and lately he’s been getting in touch with his more soulful side.
After playing clubs in his native Texas, Parnell moved to Nashville and released his debut album in 1990, hitting big with a country-soul sound similar to juke-joint outlaw Delbert McClinton. What stifled McClinton was that programmers didn’t know where to put him (outlaw country? white blues guy?). By the time Parnell showed up, country radio had loosened up enough to accept the same bluesy sound that sidetracked McClinton in the ’70s; but even then, Parnell stood apart from the rest of the boot-scooters with his blazing slide guitar and bluesier tendencies. It’s good that he didn’t try to keep up with the young lions and get back on the charts, as we’ve heard several sad examples of country artists who’ve gone that route. The best way to keep yourself fresh is to reinvent yourself, as various old rock stars, from Alex Chilton to Neil Young, have proven. Parnell didn’t reinvent so much as revert to his roots.—James Porter