The International Blues Challenge is the NCAA Basketball Tournament of music. The competitors must be really good to be invited, but everyone that does not reach the finals is heartbroken.
After Joyann Parker & Sweet Tea were knocked out of the IBC, the bandleader took it to her heart and mindset. Never mind the competitiveness or trying to appeal to a certain audience. Just write a good song.
“I was trying to fit into a mold that I had set up in my mind for myself. It’s just a trap that you can get caught up in,” Parker told Tahoe Onstage.
Parker’s first solo album doesn’t fit into any definitive category. It has several. Parker and songwriting partner Mark Lamoine have created 11 diverse, superb tracks for “Out of the Dark,” which has ascended to No. 2 the Roots Music Report’s chart even before its Feb. 12 release. Originally scheduled come out June 2020, Parker took advantage of the extra time to fine tune and write additional songs, including the title track.
“I just thought, you know what, Is the song good? Yeah, it’s good. Well, then I’m just going to do it,” she said. “Even if you tried to check all the (genre) boxes off on imaginary list, it wouldn’t mean that you would win the IBC, for example.”
Parker sang her first solo in front of an audience when she was 2 in a church. She grasps a listener’s ears with the introductory track, “Gone So Long.” It opens in gospel fashion and generates power with Lamoine’s National resonator guitar.
Song 2, “Carry On,” which was released on the album’s first video, is an anthemic R&B. “What Did You Expect” is over-the-top pop. “Predator” a bossa nova, which matches the torch jazzy album artwork. Parker managed to have Stevie Wonder play harmonica (Rory Hoffman, actually) on the most radio-friendly song, “Bad Version of Myself” while “Dirty Rotten Guy” is a humorous, tasty NOLA beignet with Tim Wick on piano. “Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)” is vintage doo-wap rock ‘n’ roll.
You get the idea. There’s a wide variety of styles. And here’s the big picture: Joyann Parker has a helluva great voice!
Parker began studying classical piano at age 4. She learned trumpet in third grade, trombone in high school and had a double music major at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
“My uncle was a big influence on my musical taste,” Parker said. “He loved everything from Emmylou Harris to Deep Purple.”
Everything, that is, but downhome blues. So, when she started her former blues band, Sweet Tea, Parker educated herself by going to a Minneapolis blues jam at least once a week for a year.
“I threw myself into the blues because I don’t like being disingenuous,” she said. “I want to understand it so I can deliver it from my heart.”
She also learned guitar. Compared to other instruments, that was difficult for her.
“The guitar and I still have a contentious relationship: I love it. I feel like it loves me sometimes,” she said. “I learned it more by ear despite having all that theory. Blues guitar is so much more feeling than theory.”
Parker and Lamoine switched producers midstream and brought in Kevin Bowe, whose resume includes work with Jonny Lang, The Replacements and Bruce Springsteen.
“Because he doesn’t have a particular style, a lot of people don’t know his name, but you know his work,” Parker said. “What he’s really great at is taking your song and making it better, adding sugar on the top.”
The sugar at the top – or in the case, the bottom – is the powerful final track, “Out of the Dark.” That was the name of the album before that song was even written and added to the record. The delay caused by the Covid shutdown allowed Parker what she needed to overcome what she called writer’s block.
“Now that I have this time, I can make sure everything will be the way I want it to be,” she said. “I’m an optimist and you have to take what you have and roll with it. I had never been good at that until I became a musician. I’ve allowed myself to give up some of those control-freak tendencies that I had and find the good in things that have been given to me.”
Listeners will find plenty of good things when they hear, “Out of the Dark,” no matter their musical taste.
— Tim Parsons
- Joyann Parker
- ‘Out of the Dark’
- Release: Feb. 12, 2021
- Favorite tracks: ‘Gone So Long, “Bad Version of Myself”
- Album release livestream: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13 LINK https://www.joyannparker.com/shows