The Americana scene has never been better. It has continued to get better and better in recent years with so many bright, up and coming artists emerging. There’s quality everywhere you look in the genre. One young artist you should undoubtedly familiarize yourself with is Parker Millsap. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter from Purcell, Oklahoma is one of the best examples you can find of an Americana artist, as his music is a blend of blues, country, rock and folk music. His band is made up of Michael Rose, who plays bass and a childhood friend of Millsap, and Daniel Foulks, who plays the fiddle. Millsap himself plays harmonica and slide guitar in addition to being the lead. He broke out two years ago with his sophomore self-titled album, as it netted him the merit as one of the Americana Music Association’s 2014 Emerging Artists of the Year and he received widespread attention from critics and fans for the song, “Truck Stop Gospel.” Millsap returns with his third album, The Very Last Day. And it’s a more than worthy follow-up to his self-titled sophomore album.
Some heavy acoustic guitar kicks off “Hades Pleads” and will instantly have you tapping your feet along with it. The fiddle play that appears throughout the song is excellent. It’s the perfect song to hook you into the album and make you want to hear more. “Pining” is an easy-going love song about a man willing to do whatever he has to do to keep his love in his life. He’ll work to the bone and exhaust himself if he has to in order to keep this woman. I love how well Millsap exudes the emotion of the song in his vocals too. This is followed by “Morning Blues,” a song about a man and his woman experiencing the blues and the man urging for them to lose them. The blues are coming from waking up and getting up in the morning. By the end of the song the man decides to just stay in bed with his woman and wait to get up in the afternoon instead. The instrumentation on this song is absolutely fantastic, evoking a very homey, down to earth feeling in the listener. And it couldn’t be anymore country if it tried.
The album takes a calm and quiet turn on “Heaven Sent” after the first three songs had a more upbeat rhythm. In what I consider the best track on the album, Millsap tackles a theme that you don’t see covered much in the country and Americana scenes; it’s about a gay man having a conversation with his pastor father about who he is and why he can’t accept him and love him now that he knows he’s gay. It’s not so much anger towards his father, but exasperation and frustration that he can’t accept him. The chorus says it’s best, as the lyrics are so powerful and well crafted:
“Papa I don’t need a preacher, I ain’t some kind of creature from some old double feature/I just wanna make you proud, but the kind of love I found well you say it ain’t allowed/Say that it’s a sin but it’s how I’ve always been/Did you love me when he was just my friend?”
I really applaud Millsap for releasing a song like this and going to a place not many in his position would have the guts to do. This is one of my favorite songs I’ve heard this year.
The album’s title track takes a straight forward approach to death. The message of the song is no matter how much you try to hide or shield yourself; everyone will meet his or her very last day. Millsap embraces this truth and opens his arms to the day it comes. The song has rockabilly tinge about it mixed with Millsap’s traditional country sound to make for a pretty catchy rhythm. Millsap takes a punk rock-like approach to “Hands Up.” Millsap emphatically sings about being in the shoes of a man who has resorted to robbing a store to feed his family. While he tells the man he feels bad about putting him in this situation, he tells him about his life. He tells the kid he’s not a bad man, as he served three tours in the Middle East and went to church every day growing up, but he’s fallen on hard times and has nowhere else to turn. So he feels justified in his actions. Upon first listen of this short and fast-paced song you’ll be surprised at how much depth this Robin Hood-like story contains.
“Jealous Sun” is another quiet song that really shows off Millsap’s great voice. The song itself is simple; it’s about how every day a man has to watch his woman leave when the sun comes up to what I’m guessing is to go to work. While the jealous sun may take her during the day, he sees a side of her at night the sun will never see and that’s her dreams and beauty as she sleeps. Up next is “Wherever You Are.” Millsap shows great passion in his voice as he sings about looking for his love and pleading for her to show herself. The chorus of this song is especially catchy, as the instrumentation and Millsap’s vocals go together well. The dusty and rustic-toned “You Gotta Move” is an almost soulful tune about needing to move when love presents itself. You have to seize the opportunity before it passes you by. The instrumentation, which I feel like I’ve praised a lot already, is brilliant on this song, especially when the fiddles kick in on the bridges. Yet despite my over-praising, I feel like I’m still not giving it enough credit. It’s just so damn good.
“A Little Fire” is a solemn, reflective song about a man who feels trapped in his house and wants to escape by burning it to the ground. While on the surface this comes off as delusional and dark, it really serves as a metaphor that the man is bored in life and just wants to bring some excitement in it. This is highlighted further when he sings about wanting to leave town and the burn rubber as they leave it. The Very Last Day concludes with “Tribulation Hymn.” Millsap once again explores death, this time through the shoes of someone who was left behind when the rapture came and left. God took his sister, but he left him behind, leaving him to kneel in the altars of a vacant church and realize the errors of his ways. It’s a very dark, yet poignant song with a clear message.
Parker Millsap proves once again he’s one of the best artists in Americana today. The Very Last Day seamlessly blends genres and tells intriguing stories with ease. Well upon the surface it seems so easy. If you listen to this album casually, you will miss out on some nice subtleties and details that really help make this album shine. It’s the little things on this album that help make the big parts standout so well. The Very Last Day gives you a little bit of everything, as it explores love, death and everything in-between. After listening to this album it reminded me of why I love Americana. And after you give a listen for yourself, you will probably come to the same conclusion. You will realize Parker Millsap is pretty damn great too.