Over the past decade, Lee Roy Parnell had plenty going on personally and professionally, but making a follow-up to 2006’s Back to the Wall was not high on his list of priorities.
During those years, Parnell says the arrival of a son (who just turned 6) made him “focus on being dad.” And while he also continued to write songs and perform in concert, the Texas-born singer-guitarist admits, “I didn’t have anything conceptual in my head or in my heart to make a record. I had to be convinced; I wouldn’t make a record just for a record’s sake.”
Enter Greg Barnhill, a songwriter whose material has been recorded by the likes of Trisha Yearwood and Chicago, among others, and whose credits include co-writing the Amy Grant–Vince Gill duet “House of Love.”
“Greg came to me and said, ‘Why aren’t you making records?’ ” recalls Parnell. “I said, ‘I don’t know if I have anything left to say.’ He said, ‘Well, why don’t we write some songs together and see what comes out.’ Once we started, it was obvious there was some maturity that had happened that did not exist before.
“Once we wrote about three or four songs,” Parnell adds, “we knew we were on to something, and that fueled the fire. Nothing else needed to be said. It was just a feeling and an emotion and proof that there was something in there that we had to get out.”
The result is Midnight Believer, released Aug. 11 via Vector Recordings, by BFD Distribution (The Orchard). On the new 10-song collection, Parnell — who enjoyed a string of hits from 1990 to 2004 on Billboard’s country-singles chart — travels down the blue-eyed soul and blues avenues that have always been a key component of his musical DNA.
Parnell worked with two different bands to record Midnight Believer, mostly out of necessity, he says. The first group included longtime backing players Steve Mackey on bass, Kevin McKendree on keyboards and Lynn Williams on drums.
“That was my band that I recorded with and traveled with for many years,” says Parnell. “There were some songs that I knew I was going to need those guys, who are well-paid sidemen now, so I’m lucky to get them when I can.”
They cut about five tunes, remembers Parnell, “and those were songs I knew I was going to need a very deep groove on, and they provided that.”
Following a break from recording, Parnell attempted to round up Mackey, McKendree and Williams for a second session, but couldn’t. So he turned to drummer Chad Cromwell, who helped by recruiting guitarist Rob McNelly, bassist David LaBruyere and keyboardist Michael Rojas to finish Midnight Believer.
“He made some really good judgment calls,” Parnell says of Cromwell’s personnel choices. “I don’t know that sonically there’s much difference [between the two bands] because we used the same room, the same engineers, and I was producing.” (Other performers on the album include guitarist Tom Bukovac and the Grammy-winning gospel vocal group The Fairfield Four.)
With his long gap between new studio albums over, Parnell is already thinking about the future: “I won’t be as painstaking with the process of making a record. It’s not that I don’t care — it’s just that I’m going to approach it different because the music business is so different.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Lee Roy Parnell on tour (schedule subject to change):
• Aug. 17: Franklin Theatre — Franklin, Tennessee
• Aug. 18: City Winery — Atlanta
• Aug. 19: The Loft — Columbus, Georgia
• Aug. 25: Wildey Theatre — Edwardsville, Illinois
• Aug. 26: UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena — Milwaukee
• Aug. 27: Kentucky State Fair — Louisville, Kentucky
• Sept. 5: Rams Head On Stage — Annapolis, Maryland
• Sept. 13: Sportsmen’s Tavern — Buffalo, New York
• Sept. 14: Playhouse — Ridgefield, Connecticut
• Sept. 15: Stockton Performing Arts Center — Galloway, New Jersey
• Sept. 16: YMCA Boulton Center — Bay Shore, New York