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Parker Millsap is a throwback to the days when albums filled with eclectic tracks were in vogue. The fiery singer/songwriter delivers stories through varied, gritty songs covered in the red dirt of his native Oklahoma.
Not much has changed for the Americana recording artist, who is five albums in with his latest project, “Be Here Instead.” Millsap remains unpredictable as he connects with the rhythmic “Rolling,” the soulful “Passing Through” and the powerful, catchy and defiant “Dammit.”
“I collect songs,” Millsap said while explaining his approach to “Be Here Instead.” “It's about the songs and how they come to me. With this album, the music came first and then I was hit with a melody and then I would be hit with a phrase and then I would be off with the lyrics.”
What strikes first throughout the “Be Here” sessions is the sonic punch to the gut by Millsap's guitar work.
“I had all of these guitar riffs stuck in my head,” he said while calling from his Nashville home. “I just let my subconscious run wild. It wasn't like I was trying to write someone else's story with this album. It was just me running loose.”
All of the songs with the exception of the aptly titled “In Between,” were written in 2019. “In Between” is a pandemic song that was written in April of 2020, he said. “I knew we were going to be in between for a while and there you have it.”
Millsap, who will perform Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, at Gabe's in Iowa City, enjoyed working with producer John Agnello, who encouraged him to experiment.
“John said to play like U2, and I tried and I ended up sounding like Lou Reed,” Millsap said with a laugh. “I don't know how to play guitar like (U2 guitarist) The Edge, even though I was pulling out all of the delay pedals, like Edge does. It’s always interesting to see what happens when you mix things up.
“The best thing about working with John is that he always said that we should have fun. I never heard that from another producer,” Millsap said. “It's not easy having fun recording in a sterile studio, since it's the opposite of playing out in front of an audience, but John made it a great time.”
However, the experience with Agnello is far from performing live in front of enthusiastic fans.
“That's the truth, and I'm getting my feet wet getting out there in front of people,” Millsap said. “I was extremely nervous my first few times out there, since I hadn't played in front of anybody in two years. I wondered what would happen. The first show I did in Memphis, I was halfway through it before it hit me that I love to do this, and I was comfortable again. I'm grateful to play music live and I understand why music is so necessary.”
Millsap, who is intense but playful live, stole the show from a number of notable recording artists while performing at Willie Nelson's annual party on his Texas ranch in March 2019.
“I had a blast playing Willie's ‘Luck Reunion,’ ” Millsap said. “My favorite part wasn't playing, but being backstage when Willie and his wife walked by and he said, ‘Good to see you, boys.’ That was magical. I can't wait to go back out and play events like that, but for now I'm having fun playing wherever and whenever.”
Millsap has come a long way from growing up in a tiny Oklahoma town belting out hymns at his Pentecostal church.
“That experience shaped me, just like me soaking up old blues records shaped me,“ he said. ”It's been a long trip, but it's been worth everything I've experienced, since I'm right where I need to be.“