Peter Parcek,
The Mathematics of Love
(Redstar/VizzTone, 2009)

A Boston-based guitarist of much experience and diverse influence, Peter Parcek fashions a blues sound of many parts. Even as he manages to move the genre forward into the 21st century, he does so without drowning its emotional core, the part that gives the blues its enduring appeal, in a tsunami of notes.

Since nothing lasts forever, on the other hand, the blues won't either. (Some years ago, perhaps in a portent of what is to come, I read an interview with a trendy New York art-rock guitarist who boasted he didn't play a single blues note; ever since, I've made a point of not listening to him.) Artists like Parcek give the music a new lease on existence, one that transcends mere life support and proceeds to actual revitalization.

I'm not sure exactly to whom to compare Parcek, except to observe that one's initial impression is likely to be of a man who, employing both acoustic and electric guitars, seeks to reframe the country blues of, for one, Mississippi Fred McDowell. One cut borrows something of McDowell's arrangement to the foundational rural blues "Kokomo Me, Baby," and Parcek's version of Peter Green's "Showbiz Blues," which opens the CD, documents both men's debts, albeit not overwhelming ones, to this particular master of the Mississippi hill-country style.

In another fairly pure country blues, Parcek covers, with fierce conviction and moral force, the late Jessie Mae Hemphill's "Lord, Help the Poor & Needy," surely a heretical sentiment in this sorry era of corporation worship and political cruelty. Hemphill's is a rewriting of the traditional "Death Don't Have No Mercy in This Land," which most will associate with the Rev. Gary Davis.

Not all of The Mathematics of Love, however, is so specifically rural in inspiration. Vigorous but unshow-offy instrumental workouts roll and tumble as boogieishly as anything by Buddy Guy, Albert King or other hard-driving big-city bluesmen. Parcek has also heeded the sorely under-appreciated British blues-guitar genius Peter Green. One hears echoes of the gypsy-jazz legend Django Reinhardt and contemporary practitioners such as Bireli Legrene and Tchavolo Schmitt. Parcek and his band turn as well to Lucinda Williams ("Get Right with God") and Harlan Howard (the classic "Busted," a hit separately for Johnny Cash and Ray Charles) for melodies that one would have thought could not be meaningful without words. Yeah, they're blues-rock -- a much-abused practice for which I have little patience as a general principle -- if you must, but notwithstanding that, they're damn good.

Parcek has soul and brains. They're never in conflict.

music review by
Jerome Clark

14 August 2010

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