Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Parker & Gray ~~ The Blues Look Good On You

Parker & Gray is not a law firm. Parker & Gray is not an accounting group. What they are is a kick ass blues duo based out of Staunton, Virginia and comprised of Daniel “Mojo” Parker and Scott “Hambone” Gray. I recently had that chance to make their acquaintance at the River City Blues Challenge where I watched them turn a group of strangers into raving fans.
Parker plays guitar, percussion, and carries the vocals while Gray plays harmonica and guitar. One thing that sets them apart from the others who were in their category is the show that they put on. Parker started off their set with foot stomps and exhalations guaranteed to get the audience responding with claps and stomps of their own. Within seconds, the people watching were part of the show.
Their playing is solid. I’m not sure how long they’ve been together, but it sounds like they’ve been together most of their lives. Like great musicians, they can read each other’s mind and know just when to take a lead or cut one short.
After their performance, I made sure to get a copy of their CD, The Blues Looks Good On You, knowing I had to review it, and share it with the listeners of Time For The Blues.   
The album starts off with some deep Delta style guitar on Broken Glass. Parker’s voice is low and resonant and the song grabs you quickly. The sparse orchestration works well with Parker’s voice and there is a certain strength in his delivery. Good start.
Gray’s harmonica sets the mood for The River, a slow lazy number that picks up the tempo and creates a different sounding song. The duo blends together, and the song unwinds nicely. It’s easy to hear where it would be a different song with electric instrumentation, but in my opinion, it wouldn’t have the same effect.
Song number three, Give A Damn, also starts out slow giving Parker’s vocals a chance to stand out more. One thing about a two-person group is that the emphasis has to focus on the strength of their musicianship and Parker and Gray blend their talents nicely. So far their best attributes are Parker’s vocals and Gray’s harp, which seem to blend seamlessly. Their guitar playing is good, but hasn’t yet hit the levels of voice and harp.
The next song, Sho Nuff The Blues, kicks up the tempo just a bit. The lyrics are cool and I’ve seen them perform the song live and really connect with an audience. Gray gets a good workout on the harp and Parker has a good time on the vocals. Fun song.
There’s a real country blues feeling to I Won’t Break. It’s still very much the blues, but there’s a difference in Parker’s vocals that makes this one stand out. They follow up with Subway Song, with some beautiful harp work from Gray. Parker delivers some lovely vocals and this is another different sound from the group, but it really is delightful to listen to.
Hammies Blues is the shortest song on the album at barely over a minute long. It’s a quick instrumental, an intermission of sorts, in between the first and second halves of the album. It’s also a fun boogie number and gives Gray a chance to take the spotlight.
The guitar brings us into the next track, Karma, and Parker’s voice has an edge to it for this song. There’s a lot of emotion delivered in his vocals and the number takes on a personal take. Nice harp breaks from Gray.
There’s a slow melancholy to Cinderella. It’s a plaintive song with Gray’s harp a bit more subdued than usual and Parker’s vocals seeming to come from farther away. The song is a memory with the feel of a lullaby. It’s a lovely number.
The next number is Mountain Top (Bathroom Recordings), and I don’t know about you, but I’m rarely excited to hear a song with the word “Bathroom” in it. Okay, there’s one by The Beatles that was covered by Joe Cocker, but that’s about the only one I can think of right now. I do like this number, especially Gray’s staccato harp runs. Next time I see these guys, and I hope that’s soon, I’m going to have to ask them about the title…
Following that is Bluesman, an autobiographical number based on their lives, and those of all of the musicians that have traveled the world before them. This is another one of their live show staples and is a real audience pleaser.
They close out the album with I’m Gone (#302), the story of leaving on a train and moving on with your life. Gray gives us the train sounds and Parker’s voice tells the story, not just with words, but with every piece of emotion that he can muster. It’s a beautiful song and a great way to end the album.
Parker and Gray are very strong performers and entertainers. They have a group mind that lets them anticipate each other’s moves. That’s especially important with a live performance, and that’s where their strength lies. As good as The Blues Look Good On You is, and it is very good – it’s nowhere near as good as one of their live shows.
I don’t get out to Staunton more than once a year or so, but I think I’m going to have to change that, just so I can catch them live somewhere. They have a great time on stage, and the audience seems to take in everything they play and give them back a lot of energy and love.
It would have been easy for Parker & Gray to include one or two friends on the album to add a little more variety, but they stayed true to their sound and kept it just the two of them. They also wrote all of the songs by themselves. I don’t know for sure, but I doubt there are any overdubs, what we hear is exactly what they played.

Check them out for yourself. If you can’t make it to the lovely city of Staunton (and I mean it’s a jewel nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains), then be sure to check out their website to see if they are playing anywhere near you. You can find that at https://www.parkerandgray.com/, and if you plan on being at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January 2018, look them up. 

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