Lee Roy Parnell’s debut album on Arista Records in 1990 was very different from the neotraditional style which was then at its peak, although not really unique (T Graham Brown was making quite similar music at the time, and doing well). The album was produced by Barry Beckett, a Nashville session man and producer whose roots lay in Muscle Shoals soul, and the combination of producer and artist was a good fit.
Lee Roy’s rise coincided with the fall from favour with country radio of T Graham Brown, who had similar influences and musical stylings. Perhaps there was only room for one, and the newer guy would win out soon, but at the time of this release, Brown was still at his peak.
Lee Roy’s first single, ‘Crocodile Tears, crept into the top 60. It’s a pretty good mid-tempo tune which he wrote himself, in which the protagonist rebuffs his wife’s insincere protestations of love, and at another time might have done better on country radio.
Only marginally more successful, the second single. ‘Oughta Be A Law’ is a chugging mid-tempo country-blues-rock number written by Gary Nicholson with Dan Penn, with a prominent brass section. It is quite catchy, but not very country, and I can see why it didn’t catch on.
Final single ‘Family Tree’ was even less of a success, which is a shame because it is my favourite of the singles. It is a cheerful uptempo song about a family’s prodigal son, who:
Went out on a limb and fell off the family tree.
I quite like ‘Fifty Fifty Love’, a solid tune written by Parnell and Nicholson, with a rhythmic groove which moves along nicely, although the horns are out in force again.
‘Mexican Money’ is an entertaining song about a blue-collar Texan planning to abandon the US, where he can’t make ends meet, to live with his Mexican sweetheart.
The solemn ballad ‘Where Is My Baby Tonight’, written by Troy Seals and Graham Lyle, slows the pace, as does the bluesy love song ‘Down Deep’. ‘Let’s Pretend’ is a soul ballad. ‘You’re Taking Too Long’ picks up the tempo again, but isn’t very interesting. The closing ‘Red Hot’ is old fashioned rock n’ roll.
Overall, this album is well done in its way, but it has quite a loose connection to country music and isn’t really my cup of tea with far too much brass rather than steel guitar. Fans of Lee Roy Parnell may be interested in exploring his earliest recorded work, but it probably isn’t the place to start.
If any artist “replaced” T. Graham Brown at country radio at the time, I’d say it was Travis Tritt. They were both mainstream country singers with some r&b stylings. It was only after T. Graham had run his course at country radio that he really started to play up and emphasize his blues leanings. With Parnell, I think his slide guitar playing was his calling card.
I haven’t heard this album, but I like brass if done in the right way, so I’ll have to check this out.
I think TGB always had a strong blues influence in his vocals, particularly on his album tracks and in his life performances. I think the TGB / Lee Roy Parnell analogy is an apt one, although I much preferred Brown’s singing to that of Parnell