By: Tim LaVoie
Concerning new music, 2016 has been mostly memorable for not being all that memorable. At this point last year dozens of records were released that merited the label “great.” It seemed like almost every week a new album came out that just had to be shared with anyone within shouting distance. This year, not so much. Then Prince died.
The brightest spot in the parade of mediocrity has been The Very Last Day from the rising alt-country star, Parker Millsap. Hailing from Purcell, Oklahoma, Millsap’s jaunty mix of acoustic blues, rustic folk, and “truck stop” gospel, is perfectly distilled into an exquisite Americana blueprint. “Americana” has become a bit of a lazy catch-all used to label just about any artist that plays acoustic instruments and comes from the Southeast. With blazing fiddles, wheezing harmonica, and Okie twang, Millsap certainly checks off all those boxes. Yet, the superb songwriting, daft instrumentation, and most importantly, bracing attitude, elevate The Very Last Day to one of the most exciting releases of the first half of 2016 - and is undoubtedly the year’s best country-tinged record (apologies to Lucinda Williams).
This April 24, the 23-year old Millsap brought his rockus brand of roots revival to Pittsburgh for a sold out Club Café show. Alongside a fiddle and thumping upright bass, Millsap’s percussion-less set-up had the crowd stomping and singing along from start to finish. The sweaty mess of a crowd received cuts from The Very Last Day with even more enthusiasm that catalog tracks from earlier releases. Live, even the slow tracks, like stand-out “Heaven Sent”, brimmed with the kind of infectious energy that has launched Millsap to such crossover adulation at such a young age.
“Hands Up”, the best song on The Very Last Day, also established the highlight of Millsap’s set. A rambunctious, blues shuffle, “Hands Up” tells the first-person tale of a down on his luck Iraq vet turning to robbery to support his family. Like all genre beacons, in two and a half minutes Millsap turns the “bad guy” into not just a sympathetic figure, but someone to root for. The capacity crowd clapped in unison as Millsap rasped, “I know you think I’m some kind of trash, stickin’ up a kid at the Quik-Trip gas/But I’ve been to the desert man, I served three tours/Crawlin’ in the dirt while you were sweepin’ the floors/And it’s hard to keep a job when you just can’t pretend, that you never heard a body bag zipping over your best friend.”
The Very Last Day is the kind of record that deserves the type of live performance Millsap gave here in April. And Millsap is the type of live performer that deserves the support of records like The Very Last Day. Gone are his days as an “artist to watch” - Millsap’s May set solidified his standing as a vital current player on in the Americana scene.