Joseph Parsons: Heavens Above
Twenty-odd years into his singer-songwriter career, never quite bursting on to any mass market radar screens yet still plugging away, Joseph Parsons’ most recent studio album is an interesting piece of work. Supported by a core band and an extensive array of guest appearances, Joseph’s singer-songwriter material is fleshed out by some excellent arrangements. Some songs get a bit of the old Beatles-ish string section, some get the soulful Hammond organ treatment, some get a steady rocking drive to propel them along; there’s plenty of variety and interest, that’s for sure.
On top of all that, Joseph’s got a distinctive voice – kind of an English folk voice I’d say which I guess is surprising for a Philadelphian. He sings in a nasal baritone – well I say baritone but I wouldn’t swear to that, it’s just that he sounds a bit deeper and richer than most folk. He’s got a very considered approach as well, as if he has all the time in the world to deliver the lyric, which gives his style a kind of authority that is quite appealing – like a favourite uncle putting his arm around your shoulder and telling you how the world is.
About half this album is pretty knockout; take some of these songs in isolation and they’d knock your socks off. For my money, ‘ Anyone ‘ might easily be the stand-out track; an achingly beautiful little song, sounding very much like early 70s British folk – somewhere between Nick Drake and John Martyn, perhaps. There are others, though. ‘Children in the Sun’, a song about young love, and ‘Falling’ , another love song are really pretty exceptional. I guess there are so-so dips in between these stronger songs but the good stuff is pretty seriously good. He says these are the most personal songs he’s recorded, the most exposed he’s let himself be. Well that’s what we want from our artists, really, so you gotta go for it. It’s not all love songs; he’s done some time in anti war groups and he covers a few political and social issues, notably on ‘Sky Boys’ ; plum in the middle there’s even something of a pop song with ‘Tell Me Hello’ but I feel it doesn’t sit so well with the more substantial material around it.
As a writer and as a singer, Joseph Parsons has a distinctive voice; based in Europe these days – he clearly has something of a following on the continent – he’s certainly carved his own niche in the musical world.