CD Review of Owl and Timber by The Parson Red Heads
Recommended if you like
The Decemberists, The Byrds, American Beauty-era Grateful Dead
Parson Farm Records
The Parson Red Heads:
Owl and Timber

Reviewed by Michael Fortes


he way the Parson Red Heads’ Owl and Timber is presented, one would never guess in a million years what tasty goodness awaits in the little ones and zeros burned into its plastic container. Generally, only promotional CDs are relegated to plain white paper sleeves with minimal artwork. Matador Records and Blue Note liked to do this in the ‘90s, placing stickers on the front and back of the sleeve with credits and info. But this is no promo – the monochrome budget-minded sticker approach is what we all get, unless you’re downloading of course.

So look past it now. This is the iPod era, and the Parson Red Heads have unfortunately passed over the option to offer up an elaborately packaged platter of vinyl this time around. But maybe they should consider it next time, because the sounds produced by this young L.A.-by-way-of-Oregon band crackle like their musical forebears the Byrds, CSNY, and at times, even the Grateful Dead, in ways that any ‘60s-minded rock n’ roll turntablist would love.

But as the work of any artist who draws from the classics will instantly tell you, the sound is only as good as the songs. As it happens, the Red Heads have the songs covered in spades, thanks to the songwriting gifts of leader Evan Way. Prefaced by a gradually intensifying three-minute vamp of dreamy guitars, organ, and decorative drums, “County Line” sports a jangly guitar riff and a smart arrangement – the band clams up for most of the vocal lines, creating an effective soft-loud dynamic for this autumn rock n’ roll driving song that also happens to sound just as infectious in the summer. The country-folk of “Out to Sea,” meanwhile, has Evan taking the choruses, while the band sings together on the verses in an uncanny resemblance to the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band.”

The best of the bunch, however, completely overshadow the rest of the EP (and everything they’ve done prior, including their consistently excellent full-length album King Giraffe). There’s the gentle, consoling closer “Crowds,” with a bit of that high lonesome sound and beautiful chorus that echoes the “sunlight pouring through the clouds” in its bright yet calm demeanor, while “Got it All,” to put it simply, is possibly the best pop song we’re likely to hear this year. Its main guitar riff is confidently forceful, while the insanely infectious chorus (“It’s alright / Everything will be OK / We got it all”) drips those ‘60s harmonies that the Red Heads have revived better than anyone else in recent memory.

Even beyond the content of the disc, the other great success here is how accurately it all plays out, relative to the sound the Red Heads put forth in their live set. They’ve pulled it off the old fashioned way – with hard work and time spent on the road. They’ve produced a body of work that, already in their short time as a band, can cut through any shortcomings in actual packaging. Besides, their all-white uniform and the flowers that deck the stage each time they play are enough to preserve a welcoming and friendly image in one’s mind to accompany their equally memorable songs. Here’s hoping they stick around a good long while.

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