Hillbilly Parker,
Hillbilly Parker
(self-produced, 2003)

Hillbilly Parker is two guys out of the acoustic end of the Austin music scene. That means they sound not a little like Guy Clark, who pioneered a Texas country-folk sound out of original songs that came off dustier, more windblown and older than they were in prosaic fact. Still active, Clark has written a whole lot of songs, not many of them memorable, but the good ones -- "Desperados Waiting for a Train," "L.A. Freeway" and "Stuff That Works" come immediately to mind -- hold their own against the best work of Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie, his most obvious influences. Clark's lapses are forgivable; after all, Bob Dylan himself has composed piles of forgettable songs.

Anyway, Hillbilly Parker -- meaning Rick Smith (who wrote 11 songs and co-wrote the other two with his partner) and Joe Priestle -- delivers more consistently decent material than a typical Clark recording does. In common with that typical Clark recording, it doesn't give you anything you haven't heard before. Then, we who love our country and folk music don't crave novelty in the way pop and rock fans demand it. To borrow the words of an old song and the title of a Norman & Nancy Blake album, our simple philosophy amounts to, "Just gimme something I'm used to." If used-to is what you're hungry for, Smith and Priestle are coming out of the kitchen with it on a blue plate: burger and fries with plenty of grease.

The two ply their trade with assorted stringed instruments competently played -- no diddling, no show-offing, which is fine with me. Bassist Phil Florian and drummer John Grayum fill up the sound on some cuts. In an amiably unadorned voice poking along atop largely mid-tempo melodies, Smith observes the passing scene in all its absurdity and tragedy, though mostly the former. "Daddy's Got It Made" and "Sneaky Little Bastard," as the titles practically shout, are under the influence of John Prine in his wry moments, and "Her Name was Angry" is Prine in romantic-conflict mode. Please don't think I'm being snide. Every musician is an echo to his or her influences in one way or another, and Prine is no influence for which any apology need be offered. Besides, these are good songs, and they stand on their own.

The Mississippi John Hurt-influenced picking of the closer, "I Might Be Shallow," takes us out on a cheerful note and leaves us hoping we'll be hearing from these hillbillies again.

by Jerome Clark
24 October 2004

Hillbilly Parker is a composite of two players, Rick Smith, the founding member/lead vocalist, and Joe Preistle, Oklahoma U music grad/backing vocalist/lead guitarist. A third person has joined the circle in the form of O.J. Laier to harmonize with Dobro, guitar and backing vocals. Ace Buchanan, drummer, gives a friendly hand, as well.

I warmed up to this one right away. With a few opening songs, the rich acoustics, clear tracks and fine voices lured me into listening more closely. The musical blend of damn good music and a unique sense of despair and humour are new kinds of hurtin' and movin'-on songs.

After a few tracks, I began to wonder what I was listening to. Where's the musically correct respect for women, why are these boys trying to hang out with loose and deadbeat gals? Yeah, I know, same old answer Adam gave, but are these guys expressing the new masculinity, the lost world of masculinity or that they're just plain losers (but obvious survivors) when it comes to romance?

I just quit wondering about it and enjoyed the music and let 'er drift, like tumbleweeds rolling across the plains.

Did I mention the lyrics? Good ol' boy juiced-up honesty and laidback romantic musings. Though shades of "Dear Abby" lit up the opening lines of "Down By the Brewery," it expanded into something a little closer to "Down By the Old Mill Stream." Well, not quite as romantically innocent as all that. Imagine listening to the words that follow, with a good smooth twang: "I love you, I need you/Like a jack needs a knife./Come back to my trailer/ I'll make you my wife; and You smashed me/You thrashed me/I can't sink much lower/But I think that somehow you will/ /and I wish you'd haul your ass straight back to Houston/'Cause I can't pay all of your bills."

I could not stop chuckling over "The Bartender's Wife." Come on, guys, if you're going to survive, pick it up a notch and take your hard-working selves up to a better type of country bar. You might find that love you're not really looking for. But then you might not have funny songs to write, and what a loss that would be.

There's a lot of regular angst and yearning in the voices of these singers. Can't get much more country than that and they've added a bit of Spanish moss and bluegrass for a well-rounded spin.

I don't know if Hillbilly Parker is a tongue-in-cheek masterpiece, or a serious good rant. I'm mystified. In any case, the music is as county solid and right as the lyrics are irreverent and free. Take it for a ride, you won't get an experience like this on any other CD I've heard.

by Virginia MacIsaac
6 May 2006