Buffalo, New York’s Robert “Freightrain” Parker returns with a nine song studio release entitled Outside Ourselves highlighting why this powerful musician has built such a following as one of the best “roots” artists working in American music today. Few artists of any standing would be so bold as to open their release with an extended instrumental piece, but that’s exactly what Parker does beginning the album with the eight minute showcase “Elijah”. It’s a magically evocative instrumental with a slightly moody, melancholic bent and ample melody carrying listeners through what might have otherwise proven to be a challenging running time. Front loading the release with such a composition might be a mistake in lesser hands, but Parker and his able band glide through the performance with a cool confidence and light touch that makes it a winning opener.
Parker’s soul chops excel with the album’s second song “Better Man” and Grace Lougen’s lead guitar has sparkling attributes that never threaten to derail the track with excessive histrionics. Parker’s bass playing pairs up well with his rhythm section partner drummer Damone Jackson and the pleasingly ethereal vocal harmonies during the chorus are one of the song’s key moments. They have a jam band aesthetic running through their music and this song, running just a hair over seven minutes, clearly has an open ended construction lending itself to extended live work. Greg Leech’s keyboards provide more than just color throughout the album and provide a deft underpinning for the album’s title song. It’s another lengthy track, but Parker and his cohorts seem incapable of exhausting listener’s attention thanks to the focused artistry coming through on every cut. This is one of the finest moments on an exquisitely realized release.
“Don’t Stop the Music” will, undoubtedly, prove to be a wicked potent live number. Nailing the tempo shifts built into the song would prove challenging for any competent musician, but Parker and the band are more than competent – they are understated virtuosos of their chosen forms and discharge the song’s demands without a single stumble. The hints of funk in the aforementioned number recede with the album’s sixth track “You Found Me” and Parker transports us, once more, into a stylish soul landscape with all of the deeply felt consideration present characterizing the best in the album’s earlier songs, particularly a memorable appearance from Bobby Militello’s saxophone. The personal nature of Parker’s songwriting, once again, burns through the instrumentation and sears the heart.
Greg Leech lays down some romping organ playing during the blues instrumental “Dark Season Blues”, but the band likewise responds with an artful rambunctiousness of their own setting this up as yet another highlight on the release. The album’s final number with vocals, “I Still Believe”, is a percolating mix of funk and soul with the necessary conviction to jam out when needed and some more of the band’s well selected vocal harmonies adorning the cut. Outside
Ourselves doesn’t beat its chest, overwhelm you with needless musical pyrotechnics, or steamroll you with clichés. It is, instead, delivered with clear-eyed focus and digs deep under your skin in short order.