Walter Parks & The Unlawful Assembly – The Unlawful Assembly
Some artists open albums with a blast of sound on opening cuts, but veteran musician & former Ritchie Havens sideman Walter Parks has chosen a slow soul burner that’s equally compelling. I agree. I haven’t heard good soul music in decades. It seems black musicians either play jazz, blues or perform rap & hip hop. But in the old-fashioned Otis Redding, Four Tops, Temptations soul music house – there’s cobwebs. Forsaken.
But then people like Mr. Parks & his superb band come in with a broom & spruce the genre up with songs like “Shoulder It,” from The Unlawful Assembly (Drops Sept 10– Atomic Sound).
Not all 9-songs are originals but reimagined from other sources. Injected with swampy soul, Americana spirituals, hymns, & thickly sliced noir by the gravelly-voiced Jacksonville, FL native Parks.
On “Wade in the Water,” he slides alongside Tom Waits & Otis Taylor. He decorates his groove with Ada Dyer’s dark-hued bluesy spooky, spicy vocals. She adds jalapeno to the jambalaya. Not that Parks needs support but their contrasting vocals – well, that’s magic.
Parks’ style is in the realm of late blues great John Campbell, Keb’Mo, Taj Mahal, & Jon Dee Graham. Yet what makes Walter special — he knows the songs need the region’s dirt & mud in the melody, the swamp diction, southern-fried intonation, humid phrasing, & whiskey tonality.
In a word – authenticity. But some may believe Parks is a good deep-throated singer. Not much of an entertainer. “Steal Away,” however, adds Otis Redding & David Ruffin to the atmosphere. Dyer returns with her just short of a wailing vocal but keeps it bluesy cool. Good guitar followed by trombone (Andrae Murchison) – that’s different, that’s interesting.
“Old Blind Barnabas,” is a Taj Mahal groove with a hot trombone. Walter’s deep vocal — old school perfection. Hammond organ slides through as the steady drums guide the trombone blasts through slick terrain. It borders on funk but never gets 70s funk cheesy. Parks allows his music to be absorbed by tradition, geography & history.
Perhaps the only misstep: “Amazing Grace.” Here Parks’ vocal overreaches. The arrangement is sentimentally warm but not a comfort range for Parks. This should’ve been a solo spot for Ada.
“Early In the Morning,” restores Parks & his higher notes are more appropriately applied. Ada’s backup vocals add feeling. The horns are Dixieland delicious.
“Follow the Drinking Gourd,” & “Georgia Rice,” finds Parks in a more contemporary voice. Structured with tantalizing sound, his voice on “Gourd” is eerily familiar to songwriter Rob Jungklas (“Make It Mean Something”).
The entire CD is filled with interesting music, a good buzz.
Players: Steve Williams (producer/drums/collaborator), Paul Frazier (bass), & Michael Bellar (organ). The B&W image courtesy: Walter Parks website & Baby Robot Media.
The Walter Parks 45-minute CD: Available @ https://www.theunlawfulassembly.com/