Scott Parsons,
Nice to Wear
(self-produced, 2001)

When the opening track of Nice to Wear first reached my ears, it brought to mind a male incarnation of Tracy Chapman. But as the album progressed, the styles and influences branched with almost every track, demonstrating Scott Parsons' startling range and varied facets.

Not every one of these turns is executed well enough to make Nice to Wear a great album, but the disc does have its strong moments including the aforementioned title track.

"Alligator Skin" is a solid 12-bar blues concoction that is given a clean, straightforward delivery by Parsons (vocals/guitar), Aaron Collier (keyboards), Wayne Dunsford (bass) and Reg Ballagh (drums). "Without a Trace" adds pennywhistle and accordion to the mix to invoke a melancholy Celtic atmosphere in a story of a "black man and Acadian girl" washed ashore after a shipwreck.

Meanwhile, the country twang of "Faces & the Names" stands in stark contrast to Parson's blast of straight-ahead rock 'n' roll on "What You Doin' Fool." And finally, closing off the album, there are the broken rhythms and muted trumpet of "Bright Orange Dress," which set out to evoke a sultry, continental flavor.

But it doesn't quite come together, and the "Bright Orange Dress" lyric, "Would you like to go out dancin' in the south of France, drive across Canada in search of romance" is indicative of that song's -- and the entire album's -- fractured identity. Then again, a keen sense of the potential power of contrast surely comes honestly to Parsons whose heritage is African, Scottish, English and Mikma'.

I think the biggest problem with Nice to Wear is that the production on each track is too similar. The recording quality is quite good; it just lacks imagination. This leaves Parson's broad range of styles feeling homogenized, dull. It's a tough criticism to make on a self-produced album. But if two or three of the dozen songs had been eliminated and the additional studio time had been spent giving a few tracks the distinct identity that makes "Without a Trace" work so well, this would have been a much better recording.

There are also a couple of production choices that worked against individual songs. "Before Your Very Eyes" ends with the kind of sloppy coda that suggests insufficient rehearsal and no producer in the control room to demand a tighter ending. And the goofy keyboard sound used on "Dark Thoughts" completely sinks that song, a song that might well have been one of my favorites given a different arrangement.

For my money Nice to Wear is best listened to as a five-track EP. "Nice to Wear," "Alligator Skin," Without a Trace," "Faces & the Names" and "Bright Orange Dress" display all the strengths and the diversity of Parsons' songwriting without exposing the significant drawbacks of limited funds and production experience.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 14 February 2004