Country music is perhaps in its saddest state nowadays. No wonder, either. It's become more of a multi-billion dollar chase as to what artist can outdo the competition for sales numbers. As with pop, and what is now called R&B, country robots are created with choreographed dance steps and glitz that mask the truth; there's little left in 'real' country music anymore. There are those who stand out from the crowd, seeming to have the freedom to do what they want. Dwight Yoakam consistently manages to get the best out of his trips to the recording studios (Pete Anderson has much to do in that respect), while Lee Roy Parnell always seems a little constricted, though showing an ability to absolutely smolder, if allowed the opportunity. Growing up listening to Duane Allman started a fire that still burns inside Parnell, and while Duane was certainly outspoken with his criticisms of music, he'd be damn proud of where Lee Roy seems to be heading. With previous efforts on the Arista label, Parnell's blues leanings were squelched in keeping with the norm, but the pot is beginning to simmer with more heat.
"Tell The Truth" isn't straight-ahead blues by any means, but there is more of that feeling than on any of his prior discs combined. Adding a few guests who can contribute sparks definitely helps too, as Bonnie Bramlett drops in for a fine duet on the smoky, "Breaking Down Slow," while roadhouse veteran, Delbert McClinton, comes by for a bristling "South By Southwest." Keb Mo' demonstrates his growing abilities on "I Declare" by charging things up with some fine singing and playing, and The Mississippi Mass Choir of Jackson kicks Parnell square in the backside on "Brand New Feeling," a gospel-charged rocker that finds the artist recalling his Baptist upbringing and sending a message that he's found a new freedom. "Guardian Angel" is a ballad of a higher power with some gutsy slide playing, and the absolute stunner is the slow and shuffling, "Takes What It Takes." Clocking in at better than seven minutes, it gives a clear picture of what Parnell has to offer and features a sweltering guitar break, loaded with blues feeling. Parnell is workman-like as a singer, and while not the strongest, he does manage to make his voice work effectively on every cut.
It's reassuring to hear someone with the background of Lee Roy Parnell break the chains and head out on a path he sets for himself, and not one chosen by 'suits and ties' with dollar signs embroidered on their lapels. Smokey horns stack the deck in favor of the artist, and production work is tight, though maybe a bit antiseptic at times. Set for release in June, take a ride to some out-of-the-way roadhouses with "Tell The Truth." Now, if Parnell would just let it all loose, maybe we could look forward to him showing more of his Duane Allman influence and cut an entire CD with blazing slide and tough twelve bar blues.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.