Three albums in, two of which have topped the US Americana charts, the Oklahoma singer-songwriter is expanding his musical horizons and looking to broaden his audience. As such, while there’s still country at the core, his latest outing, Other Arrangements, is a rockier and poppier affair. It’s also his first to use electric instruments.
It kicks off in crunchy form with the steady driving drum beat and snarly guitar riffs and chords of ‘Fine Line’ as he lays out the down and dirty side with “honey I don’t bite, I’m just a little bloodthirsty” before switching style and mood for a mingling of Celtic and Southern soul on ‘Your Water’ with Daniel Foulks on fiddle and then again for the simple acoustic folksy fingerpicking of ‘Singing To Me’, soul hints seeping in on the chorus, Millsap also offering wordless falsetto crooning refrain.
The title track, about realigning a relationship, also nods to Southern R&B influences, the song again rolling on guitar riff rails while driven by a punchy beat and chugging rhythm the gospel shaded poppily rousing ‘Let A Little Light’ In offers a reminder to lighten up once in while (“Not every day is a fight to win“). Another number built for big arenas, there another nod to his gospel roots on the ‘Coming On’, especially in the female backing vocals who get their own handclaps backed spotlight as the song builds to its climax,
Things are slower and bluesier on the gutsily growled ‘Tell Me’ as he sings how “I’ve got a scar from bleeding for you”, ‘She’ bringing on a musically lighter shade of blue and a touch of a Randy Newman/Harry Nillson crossover with some playful percussive notes, dreamy melodic refrains and violin and horns.
Underlining the musical variety herein powering along on drums and riffery, ‘Some People’ tickles blues and rock with a power pop swagger reminiscent of early Cheap Trick and, in parts, Tom Petty. That same retro-styled musical exuberance is evident in spades on ‘Gotta Get To You’, a chugging acoustic riff providing the spine around which his raspy vocals and the drums and electric guitars flex their muscles.
The remaining two numbers nod to a more musically reflective and simple mood. The lyrics and rhymes may be a touch doggerel (“We were lying down, our bodies were bound”), but featuring a bridge of quixotic strings, the optimistic, upbeat ‘Good Night’ basks in the blissful afterglow of love while album closer, ‘Come Back When You Can’t Stay’, written by and featuring a duetting Jillette Johnson, is an achingly tender song about love without complications that makes not making a commitment seem unexpectedly romantic.
If you come to this expecting another helping of Red Dirt Americana with songs about religion, preacher and small towns, then you’re in for a bit of a surprise. Hopefully, you’ll find it a decidedly pleasant one.
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Artist’s website: www.parkermillsap.com
‘Your Water’ – live: