The opener for Jeremy Parsons thirteen song album Things I Need to Say, “Makin’ Things Up As I Go”, is an immensely approachable tune with genuine traditional country coupled with a breezy pop song like structure. Parsons has an appealing, youthful voice cut with just enough of that classic “High Lonesome” vocals helping him accentuate the song’s winking wisdom. Parsons wears the world like a loose garment on this recording. The fiddle playing accompanying him on the song makes for an excellent counterpoint. There’s a more evocative musical edge emerging with the second song “Life” and its meditative acoustic guitar playing blends well with the slightly downcast tone of Parsons’ voice. The song’s atmospherics during the verses possess a light touch that dissipates for a cleaner, nicely striding chorus. His songwriting for this number is particularly strong.
There’s a roots rock vibe emerging from the song “Hope” despite its mid-tempo ballad style. It’s another sharply observed lyric with some poetic twists along the way and there’s a slight mournful quality in his voice that ranks this among Parsons’ best vocals. The naked vulnerability of the song is especially potent and the guitar work has that same yearning quality during brief lead flourishes. The fifth track “Burn This House Down” has garnered some early chart success and an award-nominated video accompanies the song – it’s easy to hear why. This expands on the roots rock vibe audible in the earlier “Hope” and even brings organ into the mix. The dissonant musical elements of the song, propulsive rock drumming with pedal steel fills lacing over the top of the rhythm section, make it one of the more memorable numbers on Things I Need To Say.
“Purpose” further expands his musical reach with a slash and burn rocker likewise supported by some backing organ fills. Raucous harmonica wails punctuate the arrangement and the steamrolling verses build to a rousing chorus. We’re back in decidedly country rock territory with the relaxed shuffle music of “Lisa’s Lost”, but Parson’s strong narrative lyric is a character study in distress and dispiriting fare. There’s enormous sympathy and heartache running through Parsons’ vocal and it makes it one of the more winning numbers on Things I Need to Say. “After All These Years” doesn’t fall squarely into any particular musical camp, but there is the same mix of elements we hear in many of Parsons’ songs and his subject matter remains the vagaries of love and the decisions we make along the way. It’s a poignant number and he’s joined by some dramatic, well mixed backing vocals.
The album’s title song has accordion and slide guitar adding some flair to a rustic bit of acoustic singer/songwriter material. There’s a nicely modulated rhythm section working throughout the song, but Parsons keeps another gem on the album percolating at an artfully steady temperature. Things I Need to Say concludes with a final mini-masterwork “Why Is the Bluebird Blue?” and it’s one of the finest examples of Parsons’ songwriting talents he’s yet released. His vocal versatility comes through as well thanks to the extraordinarily different character, slightly nasal, his voice brings to the track. There’s hints of some stunning sonic turns recurring a few times through the course of the song and adds more color to the song. This is one of the best Americana/roots music collections you’ll hear in recent memory, without question, but it’s more than that – Things I Need To Say is a songwriting clinic from one of the best working today.
-review by Jodi Marxbury