My first encounter with The Parson Red Heads was in 2009 when a music attorney sent me their six-song Owl & Timber EP. Eureka! It was love at first sight. One listen and I was hooked. There was something intriguingly paradoxical about their sound. It was familiar but unique. Catchy yet complex. Pretty music with depth. But one thing stood out above all else: the quality of the singing. I told my lawyer friend that if they sang this good live I might faint and could he please bring some smelling salts, just in case?
I’m here to testify The Parson Red Heads’ show is a revelation. I first saw them at a venue in the bohemian Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles and almost couldn’t believe my ears - to witness vocals this perfect in a live setting was a rare experience, indeed. The band was a four-piece but they’d brought along reinforcements. There were nine people onstage, seven of them singing. One was playing pedal steel. Another on acoustic guitar. One that just played tambourine and danced, like some kind of indie rock cheerleader. It struck me that this was not a mere bar band. The set was so sophisticated, it was clear it had been carefully thought out, built with a beginning, middle and end. Starting slow, full of hills and valleys, as if they were playing for a seated audience in a theater. It was a joyous affair. Thankfully, medical attention was avoided but it was then and there that I became a Parson Red Heads fan for life.
There have been a number of fine musicians and singers that have come through the Parson’s ranks over the years but the core has always been visionary frontman / primary writer / vocalist / guitarist Evan Way, drummer / vocalist Brette Marie Way, lead guitarist / songwriter / vocalist Sam Fowles, and bassist / vocalist Charlie Hester (massive shout-outs are also in order to crucial alumni Andy Creighton, Aaron Ballard, Raymond Richards and Erin Way).
The song selection on their upcoming release, In A Hazy Dream: Retrospective, is democratic – at least one track from each of their releases over the past 10 years – creating a definitive, twelve-song snapshot of the band’s career. My personal favorite (and I know many diehard Parsons fans would agree) is “Punctual As Usual” - although “Out To Sea” may be the supreme PRHs song, one where all of their hallmarks are present. Sam is also featured here doing lead vocals on his compositions – the valentine, “I Was Only” and reflective album closer “Never Ending Road.” The overall vocal blend of Sam’s clear delivery, Evan’s earthy, at times McGuinn-ish pipes and Brette’s uncanny ability to interweave with them both is what defines their sound. But, having said that, one of the things I love most about the Parsons is that they don’t feel obligated to fill up the songs with words, at times taking off on detailed musical passages but always coming back to those signature, stunningly beautiful, expertly done, multi-voiced harmonies.
So, there you have it. If you’re looking for extraordinary, harmonious, uplifting, thoughtful, warm, folk-pop-prog rock – go no further. This is music that comforts as it challenges and inspires. I hope you like what you hear and we’re thrilled to have you along for the ride!
- Peter Jesperson