Clay Parker and Jodi James’s The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound

cover artClay Parker and Jodi James are a music-making couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This album, which looks like it’s maybe their second or third, is a superb collection of country-leaning folk, which I guess these days is called Americana.

The two were making music separately when they met while playing bills together in 2009. Since joining up they’ve taken some inspiration from the life of American troubadour Woody Guthrie, traveling around the countryside and soaking up the various strains of Southern music. The title, taken from a lyric in one of these 10 songs that they all co-wrote, was inspired by a line in one of Guthrie’s songs, “When the Curfew Blows.” “Was the lonesomest sound, boys/ that ever heard sound, boys/ like the midnight wind, boy/ when the curfew blows.”

On all of these songs the two play acoustic guitars and harmonize on duets. The closest and easiest comparison is to Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. Most of their songs slope along at a languid pace that more than suggests a warm, humid Southern day. James’s voice when she’s singing harmony with Parker even sounds a bit like Welch’s, though less so when she’s singing solo, and Parker’s voice is more in a tenor range with a pronounced twang, sometimes rather like Gram Parsons.

They’re accompanied on most of the songs by a full band, too. Ben Herrington’s organ playing stands out as what makes their sound unique. Paul Buller contributes mandolin or pedal steel or electric guitars to each track, Clyde Thompson fiddles occasionally, and David Hinson and Micah Blouin provide the rhythm with bass and drums.

That Gram Parsons comparison is most apt on the most countryish track “Every New Sky.” Pedal steel provides lots of color and emotion to this gentle shuffle that’s a love song of sorts to someone who’s not emotionally present. There’s a pronounced Louisiana feel to many of these, particularly the brooding, swampy “Down To The Garden” where Buller has the reverb turned way up on his electric guitar and Herrington uses his organ as a drone.

And blues, of course. The penultimate track “Yazoo City” is a standout, a folksy gentle country blues that shuffles down with a railroad groove and some sweet fiddling. “Gallows Tree” is a lovely song with chilling imagery. Here’s a live video performance of that one.

Parker and James aren’t afraid to let a song stretch out its legs. James sings lead on the relaxed ballad “Cumberland Mill (No Pain)” at more than six minutes. And then there’s the final track, which most reminds me of Welch and Rawlings, the 12-minute “Killin’ Floor.” It features just Parker and James on their acoustics as they explore some common Americana themes in much the same way that Gil and Dave do on “I Dream A Highway.” The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound is an impressive bit of songcraft and singing. The whole album stands out quietly in the crowded Americana field.

They’ve got lots of information on their website.

(self-released, 2018)

About Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.