Robert “Freightrain” Parker – Outside Ourselves
Based out of the Buffalo, New York region, Robert “Freightrain” Parker and his band have traveled much of the globe playing a distinctively personal blend of blues, rock, soul, and funk and this studio release brings another side of their skills to the fore. Their capacity for surprise captures our imagination with the album’s first song “Elijah”. The track doesn’t attempt remaking the musical wheel, but it’s impressively daring for Parker to lead off the album with a lengthy instrumental track. I never tire of the song, however; the band keeps things fresh over the course of eight minutes and the production does a stellar job of capturing each instrumental “voice” in the mix. “Better Man” has the album’s first vocal track and you can’t help but admire his singing – it has a gentle, yet dramatic edge and he effortlessly invokes emotion while maintaining the top notch bass playing he’s renowned for. The breathtaking honesty and self reflection in the song may catch some off guard, but Parker sweetens it with some judiciously employed backing vocals.
“Outside Ourselves” has an easy going amble from the first and some lean, eloquent rhythm guitar with tasty lead melodic flourishes along the way. The rhythm section on each of the album’s songs achieves a sinewy sternum rattling gravitas filling the songs with a strong pulse. The organ playing and guitar work, however, deserves a special mention as the former, in particular, really excels with this performance. Parker and his band mates aren’t into gratuitous displays of showmanship; instead, everything has coherence here and serves a clear purpose. “Wake Up” comes out of its corner punching with some tight blues riffing opening the song before it soon slows down and becomes much more expansive. The blues gives way to breezy funk and incendiary lead guitar takes over more and more as the track progresses.
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“Don’t Stop the Music” is another one of the album’s best cuts and fill of soulful funk stylings in a much stronger way than we heard with the preceding tune. Horns are an important presence in the song “You Found Me” and Parker’s writing deserves credit for the conversational poetry it achieves at its finest moments. The brass brings an additional vocal quality to the performance that deepens its emotional impact. “Dark Season Blues” is the band’s most outright foray into strict blues, but they give the familiar an effervescent bounce all their own and even make a song rife with pathos entertaining rather than exhausting.
We get a further sense of the intensely personal nature of Parker’s music with the album’s final lyrical number “I Still Believe”, but it’s another notable side to his talent that Parker can make the personal universal without much effort. Outside Ourselves ends with a reprise of the album’s opening instrumental. This version of “Elijah” is much shorter than its counterpart, but just as effective and ending the album as it began strengthens its overall unity. Robert “Freightrain” Parker has already garnered numerous awards and attention from the music listening community, particularly fans of roots music and Americana, and there’s no question his latest album will only build on his blossoming reputation.