Parker Millsap

Parker Millsap quickly made a name for himself with his captivating live performances, soulful sound, and character-driven narratives. He’s had a string of successes including an appearance on CONAN, a performance with Elton John at the Apple Music Festival, an Austin City Limits taping & an Americana Music Association nomination for Album of the Year. He’s shared the stage with folks like Jason Isbell, Shovels & Rope, Patty Griffin, Houndmouth, and many others.

Parker’s early releases showcased a mastery of acoustic folk rock, with their flourish for revelation and fiery dynamics. Be Here Instead, Millsap’s 2021 release produced by John Agnello, hinted at the wildness to come while exploring newer, more personal songwriting styles. Parker’s newest album, Wilderness Within You, is a natural step in Parker’s evolution which interweaves threads of his musical past and newer influences to gorgeous effect.

The Bones of J.R.Jones

“There was no ‘a-ha’ moment,” says Jonathon Linaberry, “no life-changing revelation, no singular flash of inspiration. It was just a fierce, steady, undeniable energy, a force of nature I had to wrestle and wrangle with for years until I could harness it.”

It’s easy to understand, then, why Linaberry—better known as The Bones Of J.R. Jones—would call his mesmerizing new album Slow Lightning. As its title would suggest, the collection is raw and visceral, pulsating with an understated electrical current that flows just beneath its seemingly placid surface. The songs are restless and unsettled here, often grappling with doubt and desire in the face of nature and fate, and frequent collaborator Kiyoshi Matsuyama’s production is eerily hypnotic to match, with haunting synthesizers, vintage drum machines, and ghostly guitars fleshing out Linaberry’s already-cinematic brand of roots noir. The result is a moody, ominous work that’s equal parts Southern Gothic and transcendentalist meditation, an instinctual slice of piercing self-reflection that hints at everything from Bruce Springsteen and Bon Iver to James Murphy and J.J. Cale as it searches for meaning and purpose in a world without easy answers.

“I felt very lost at the time I was writing these songs,” Linaberry confesses. “It was a moment of deep crisis and anxiety, but I knew the only way out was through, which meant I just had to bring myself to the table every day and put in the work.”

Linaberry’s no stranger to putting in the work. Born and raised in central New York, he got his start playing in hardcore and punk bands before becoming enamored with the field recordings of Alan Lomax, who documented rural American blues, folk, and gospel musicians throughout the 1930s and ’40s. Inspired by the unvarnished honesty of those vintage performances, Linaberry launched The Bones of J.R. Jones in 2012 and, operating as a fully independent artist over the course of the ensuing decade, released three critically acclaimed albums along with a trio of similarly well received EPs; landed his songs in a slew of films and television series including Suits, Daredevil, Longmire, and Graceland; and toured the US and Europe countless times over as a one-man-band, playing guitar or banjo while simultaneously stomping a modified drum kit everywhere from Telluride Blues to Savannah Stopover. Along the way, Linaberry also shared bills with the likes of The Wallflowers, G. Love, and The Devil Makes Three, soundtracked an Amazon commercial helmed by Oscar-winning director Taika Waititi, and earned praise from Billboard, American Songwriter, and Under the Radar, among others.

After living in constant motion for the better part of ten years, though, Linaberry found himself at an unexpected standstill in 2021. At the time, he and his wife had recently relocated from Brooklyn to an old farmhouse in the Catskills, and the change of pace was both rewarding and challenging all at once.
“It’s a pretty remote, rural area we moved to,” Linabery explains, “the kind of place where spring is just a continuation of the cold, grey, muddy, brown of winter. I was exhausted by the seasons, working on songs nine hours a day in the attic, and it all felt very isolated and insular.”

Where the most recent Bones of J.R. Jones release, 2021’s A Celebration, drew inspiration from a trip into the vast, desert expanses of the American southwest, the songs that began taking shape in upstate New York this time around were more difficult to pin down, seeming to come and go of their own accord.

“That’s where the notion of ‘slow lightning’ was born,” Linaberry explains. “It’s about a power you can’t control, a force that’s bigger than you and follows its own path no matter how badly you want to mold or direct it. That’s what this record felt like, and it’s something I had to figure out how to embrace.”

That kind of all-consuming power is palpable from the start on Slow Lightning, which begins with the boisterous “Animals.” Gritty and insistent, the track taps into something primal and uninhibited, learning to trust its gut and make peace with aiming high and sometimes falling short. “Well my heart’s just trying to kill me,” Linaberry sings over roiling guitars and drums. “It always vibrates above / With always grand notions / But it plays in the mud.” Like so much of the album, it’s a testament to resilience, to letting go of failure and pressing on even when things feel hopeless. The bittersweet title track explores tenacity in the face of disenchantment, while the lo-fi “Blue Skies” insists on reaching for hope regardless of the cost, and “The Flood” conjures up a wistful portrait of survival and loss as it builds from a dreamy blur into a searing crescendo.

“I remember lying in bed in the dark hearing the coyotes laughing out in the field behind our house just before they killed something,” Linaberry recalls. “It was so haunting and eerie, but at the same time, you’re just so totally in awe of what’s happening right outside your window, this elemental moment of life and death all wrapped up together.”

Despite the looming sense of danger that permeates the album, Slow Lightning still manages to find moments of humor and levity. The darkly romantic “I’ll See You In Hell” revels in a love so strong it carries on through eternal damnation; the sardonic “I Ain’t Through With You” gets high on an addictively toxic relationship; and the relentlessly taut “Heaven Help Me” surrenders to overwhelming infatuation, with Linaberry recalling, “Love is the kind of thing that will keep you warm / That’s what she said / As she was burning down my home.”

In the end, though, it’s perhaps the breezy “Salt Sour Sweet” that best encapsulates the spirit of the record, with Linaberry looking back on a lifetime of love and heartbreak, dreams and disappointment, success and failure, and ultimately recognizing that it’s the grand sum of them all that make us who we are. “It’s the salt sour and sweet / That holds,” he sings in an airy falsetto. Call it maturity, call it self-awareness; it’s the kind of wisdom that can only arrive on a bolt of Slow Lightning.

Parker Millsap

Parker Millsap quickly made a name for himself with his captivating live performances, soulful sound, and character-driven narratives. He’s had a string of successes including an appearance on CONAN, a performance with Elton John at the Apple Music Festival, an Austin City Limits taping & an Americana Music Association nomination for Album of the Year. He’s shared the stage with folks like Jason Isbell, Shovels & Rope, Patty Griffin, Houndmouth, and many others.

Parker’s early releases showcased a mastery of acoustic folk rock, with their flourish for revelation and fiery dynamics. Be Here Instead, Millsap’s 2021 release produced by John Agnello, hinted at the wildness to come while exploring newer, more personal songwriting styles. Parker’s newest album, Wilderness Within You, is a natural step in Parker’s evolution which interweaves threads of his musical past and newer influences to gorgeous effect.

Parker Millsap didn’t know not to sing like this. Listening to old albums as a kid alone in his room, he didn’t realize howling like a Delta blues ghost readying the world for rock-and-roll isn’t a how skinny white boy from Purcell, Oklahoma usually sounds.

“I was listening to records from the 20s and 40s, and the voices that came out were otherworldly,” Millsap says. “I was really attracted to that. At the same time, I grew up doing congregational singing in church––you know, everybody stands up, grabs a hymnal, turns to number 162, and sings ‘I’ll Fly Away’ at the top of their lungs. I learned to sing in that context, where nobody’s listening to you. We are all just singing.”

People not listening to Millsap could only last so long––not just because the arresting power of his voice cuts through any crowd, but also because the 22 year-old is always reaching for something worth saying.

New album The Very Last Day (Okrahoma Records/Thirty Tigers) proves an ideal vehicle for Millsap’s message, delivered via gospel-tinged rock-and-roll poetry. In the midst of a world so fond of condemnation as entertainment, Millsap offers open-armed love of people and their stories. Whether he’s singing from the perspective of a young gay man longing for his evangelical father’s acceptance, or as the King of the Underworld wild with passion, his character-driven songs mine deep wells of joy and despair to create gut-punching narratives that are sometimes hellish, sometimes heavenly, and always human.

The Very Last Day is the anticipated follow-up to his 2014 eponymous record, which netted him high-profile praise from NPR, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and others, as well as a nomination for Americana Emerging Artist of the Year. Millsap is young, but he isn’t green. He has been playing in bands since junior high and recording since he was 16. “For a long time, we’d go play gigs around Oklahoma and Texas, and there was not a lot of press,” Millsap says, reflecting on recent accolades. “I just thought, ‘I like doing this more than I like working construction.’” He laughs and pauses. “When people started noticing, there was this new, weird pressure.”

Millsap responded to the pressure by assembling a cast of new and old friends and heading to the studio. “We got to go make a record that I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to make,” he says, before adding with characteristic sincerity, “I got to make a really cool album with my friends. And I’m grateful.”

Produced by Gary Paczosa (Alison Krauss, Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton) and Millsap, and engineered/mixed by Paczosa and Shani Gandhi, The Very Last Day was recorded at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana. Millsap recently moved to Nashville from Guthrie, Oklahoma, but while recording, he lived at the Louisiana studio with musicians including fiddle player Daniel Foulks, drummer Paddy Ryan, and bassist Mike Rose, the latter of whom has been his best friend and bandmate since middle school.
Millsap wrote all but one of the eleven songs on The Very Last Day. The album demands serious solitary listening even as it begs to be the soundtrack for a weekend roadtrip with friends, and clearly delights in having it both ways. The trio of devilish fiddle, poignant acoustic guitar, and thundering upright bass that originally won audiences over is now joined by a chorus of instruments including percussion, piano, and Millsap himself on growling electric guitar that until this record, he’d only dreamed of incorporating. And of course, Millsap’s haunting voice is on magnificent display: it’s wickedly guttural but can turn on a dime to hypnotically soothe listeners like a songbird.

“Hades Pleads” kicks off the album with heart-racing aplomb. Millsap swoons and pants as he channels the devil in love, inspired by Greek mythology’s Hades and Persephone. A long black train roars through the track, as Millsap puts Death on a different sort of prowl. “Hands Up” is a foot-stomper that tells the story of a convenience store hold-up from the point of view of the robber, before, as Millsap says, “they put a picture of him on the TV as people try to find him because he’s now officially a bad guy. I don’t think he’s all bad.” The smoldering “A Little Fire” mulls over the paradoxical destruction and hope in different kinds of blazes, while “Wherever You Are” hawks the freedom of being you, even in narrow-minded places. “You Gotta Move,” the only song on the record Millsap didn’t write, is a blues-soaked vocal showcase.

The religious imagery and characters so stirring in Millsap’s attention-grabbing last release are here as well, although Millsap does not consider himself religious these days. But like many artists in any medium, Millsap often uses spiritual teachings, imagery and traditions to explore what is quintessentially human. He uses the approach with sublime effectiveness in “Heaven Sent,” a beautiful standout on an album rich in transcendent moments. The song’s tortured young gay protagonist asks his Christian father question after question about the limits of his and Jesus’s love. “You say that it’s a sin, but it’s how I’ve always been / Did you love me when he was just my friend?” Millsap cries, pleading but defiant. He typically writes his songs in the first-person perspective. The result is always intimate, but in “Heaven Sent,” it’s especially compelling. The song is subversive and moving without employing an ounce of hate. Add the knowledge that Millsap, a young straight man, is singing as a young gay man, and the tune also carries a real-life dimension of empathy and solidarity.

The title track starts with a nod to the Louvin Brothers before heralding nuclear apocalypse. It’s another example of Millsap’s penchant for using folkloric music and stories as the framework for modern observations. In “The Very Last Day,” Millsap’s narrator takes the day of reckoning out of God’s hands and places it squarely on the shoulders of men––“Ain’t no sweet chariot is gonna come for to carry everybody home / No instead, it’s gonna be a bomb. And here it comes!” Sauntering and darkly euphoric, it’s Millsap’s favorite of the new tunes to perform live.

“I was living in Guthrie when I wrote a lot of these songs,” Millsap explains. “Oklahoma in the winter looks post-apocalyptic. We don’t have a lot of evergreen trees, and the grass turns brown to the point of colorlessness. Everything just looks like skeletons and grayness.” He was also reading Stephen King’s The Stand and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road while binge watching The Walking Dead. “Some people just want to watch the world burn,” Millsap says. “A lot of the songs I grew up singing in church are about the end of the world, so it wasn’t uncomfortable for me to go there. It’s fun.”

“Tribulation Hymn” closes the album as an unforgettable picture of isolation and regret. The Day of Judgment has come and gone, and Millsap’s protagonist has been left behind. He leaves listeners with the image of a chorus of crows, singing in the rafters above the narrator in an empty church.

As Millsap sings his stories about lonesomeness and longing, the supernatural and the ordinary, even the saddest portraits become loving odes to everyday humanity. “I’ve learned to trust people before I’ve learned to distrust them, which can be dangerous,” he says. “But yeah. I do like people. I think you have to. What else are you going to like?”