Parlor James – McCabe’s (Santa Monica, CA)
Ten years ago, Lone Justice anticipated the current twangcore movement with an audacious sound that drew in equal measure from trad country and the visceral rock ‘n’ roll of Tom Petty, whose “Ways to Be Wicked” provided Lone Justice with its only hit. Maria McKee and Marvin Etzioni went on to solo careers, and Don Heffington is now an in-demand session drummer and producer.
But founder Ryan Hedgecock hadn’t been heard from until recently, when he resurfaced as the co-leader of the Brooklyn-based Parlor James. Hedgecock’s partner, Amy Allison, has a pedigree of her own: She’s the daughter of the legendary Mose Allison.
The sound of Parlor James is built around the contrasting vocal blend of the clear-voiced Hedgecock and the nasal twang of Allison. Singing together, the duo effortlessly and palpably conjure up the ghostly sound of the southern mountains, and the effect is haunting and authentic.
A four-song demo recorded for Atlantic Records (who subsequently — and inexplicably — got cold feet) displays Parlor James’ full intent, as the Hedgecock-Allison harmonies are surrounded by a rich intermingling of electric guitars and acoustic stringed instruments for an ambience that is simultaneously rockin’ and bewitching.
Onstage at McCabe’s on a recent autumn evening, by contrast, the pair was accompanied only by Heffington on tambourine and snare and electric bassist J.D. Foster (Dwight Yoakam, True Believers). The purity of this minimalist approach revealed the depth and subtlety of Parlor James’ material, a mix of originals and high, lonesome traditional songs.
On their originals, Allison and Hedgecock show a wonderfully natural flair for classic country themes and melodies on such songs as Allison’s “Cheater’s World” (which sounds like an outtake from Grievous Angel), Hedgecock’s “Devil’s Door” and the co-written “Down on Dreaming”, all of which were performed impeccably at McCabe’s before an audience that included McKee and Etzioni.
The originals felt so authentic that it was difficult to distinguish them from the traditional “Clementine”, “Mockingbird” and “All the Pretty Little Horses,” which Hedgecock and Allison restored to their original arcane spookiness. Parlor James took liberties with Petty’s “Turning Point” (given to Lone Justice by Benmont Tench as a prospective follow-up to “Ways to Be Wicked” but never recorded by that band). They slowed the pace, altered the structure and discovered a core of pathos only hinted at in the original.
A band as distinctive and compelling as Parlor James isn’t likely to remain obscure for long. But rather than waiting passively to be “discovered”, Hedgecock and Allison are planning to release their own CD containing a half-dozen songs.