Country Jukebox Jury LP: Parker McCollum – Never Enough

I admire Parker McCollum, the self-proclaimed ‘gold-chain cowboy’. He’s young and pretty enough to break into the country radio game outside his home state of Texas. He perfectly intersects the traditional sound of Texan radio and the image-centric style of Nashville. Guided by producer Jon Randall and his mentor Randy Rogers, Parker is to Texas what Morgan Wallen is to Nashville and beyond. I imagine Parker is less keen on the global attention that his music deserves.

The exceptional second album of his Nashville deal comes out a few weeks before CMA Fest and has been helped by the radio success of Handle on You, a magnificent drinker’s tune (‘Tennessee and Kentucky…after all this back and forth, a fifth won’t do’) which has cracked the Billboard top 30 across all genres and is sitting behind Last Night on the Country Airplay charts.

(Incidentally, in a depressing week at radio, only one-and-a-half songs in the Top 20 are sung by women: Megan Moroney and Priscilla Block, who sings some of Justin Moore’s You, Me and Whiskey. Like kids being shot in Texas, the paucity of women on country radio is no longer news. It just is. But don’t worry: after an ENTIRE YEAR, Hailey Whitters is about to break into the top 20.)

For Parker, who signed to MCA after spending a good few years building a strong fanbase as an independent act in Texas, he’s likely under less pressure to sell than other acts, although I remember him saying that he’s very hard on himself. So has he, with the equally brill Jon Randall, produced a great bit of art?

There’s a host of top writers in the credits. It isn’t a major-label album without an Ashley Gorley write, and Parker’s offering Have Your Heart Again is another winner. It’s odd to hear a piano-and-vocal Gorley track, but that’s one of his many tricks, as he showed on Crash My Party for Luke Bryan, You’re Gonna Miss This for Trace Adkins and Marry Me with Thomas Rhett. This one has a chorus whose falsetto note matches the emotion of the narrator who lies in bed missing how he’d ‘shiver when you say my name’.

The Love Junkies – whom by now you will know are Liz Rose, Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna – were all there for Burn It Down, which has a juddering hook, punishing guitar solo and a vocal full of heartbreak. I’m going to guess it’s Hillary who provides the female voice on the track – on this and other tracks, the female vocals are uncredited – though kudos to Parker for refusing to countenance an obvious guest vocal from someone like Lindsay Ell.

In addition, Lori and Liz were there for I Ain’t Going Nowhere, and Lori and Liz and the great Lee Thomas Miller helped him on Lessons From An Old Man. The former is a perfectly formed power ballad with a rhythmic groove underscoring Parker’s solid vocal where he sings of being ‘restless’ and a dreamer yet loyal to his beloved; the latter is another one of those evocative country songs about how ‘the years sure fly by’ sung from a wise old bloke.

Brett James is a experienced writer familiar with rocking country artists – indeed, he wrote Cody Johnson’s smash On My Way To You – and he’s a fine choice to drive much of the album. Best I Never Had (‘why was I itching to get out of Nashville so bad?’), Too Tight This Time (‘there must be something broken inside this lonely man’) and Don’t Blame Me (‘for lovin’ you’) are mid-tempo reminiscin’ songs full of regret, while Stoned is a tear-stained song in the Stapleton mould.

Among all this regret and sadness, love can conquer all. The album’s third track is Things I Never Told You (‘thank you’s at the top of my list’), a Texas-style wedding ballad that Parker sells well, assisted by pedal steel poking through the arrangement. ‘I wouldn’t be half the man I am if you hadn’t loved this boy’, Parker sings, perhaps articulating what a listener feels for his own beloved. Tough People Do (another Brett James co-write) is a song of solidarity and companionship that ends with a stadium-sized guitar solo: ‘tough times don’t last, tough people do’ is the hook, which sounds like the motto of a men’s group.

Talking of guitars, David Lee Murphy was in the room for Hurricane, the chugging opening track that describes a whirl of a girl who will ‘get her name on a hurricane’. It sounds like a Kenny Chesney track, which makes sense because David is a key part of the Chesney camp. It must have sounded great when Parker closed his Houston Rodeo set with it back in February.

The old timers Brett and Brad Warren helped Parker on two tracks: the acoustic ballad Tails I Lose, for which Wade Bowen showed up to the write and may have come up with the line ‘last dance jukebox quarter’; and the album’s jaunty closing track Wheel, where Parker has been rolling ’15 straight days and every mile you’re on my mind’.

There’s some autobiography, we’re led to believe, on Speed, a moral lesson given to the ‘kid outta Conroe’, Parker’s home town, from an unknown lady (‘wherever she is’). He’s been ‘fifteen years out on the highway pushing red’, but Parker always remembers how this woman came ‘like an old handwritten letter’. The final minute is Southern rock’n’roll and one of the best moments of an album which puts Parker right at the head of the pack.

With Randall King and Cody Johnson also converting people every week to their cause, it’s a wonder that more isn’t being made of this alliance between Nashville’s cream and the Red Dirt Scene.

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