Peter Parcek – Mississippi Suitcase
Lightnin’ Records 003
11 songs – 54 minutes
Boston-based guitar virtuoso Peter Parcek bounces back from a wrist injury that threatened to sideline him permanently with this powerful CD, celebrating the joy of living while baring the full, bluesy depth of the pain and struggle we all endure in these troubled times.
A native of Middletown, Conn., who immigrated to London after graduating from high school with his parents’ blessing to escape service in the Vietnam War, Parcek became immersed in the British blues explosion, seeing Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Peter Green in clubs. A guitarist who was overwhelmed by the talent around him, he turned to harmonica, joined a band and played the famed Marquee Club and other rooms before being forced to return home because he lacked a work permit.
Parcek’s musical education continued by watching as many of the great bluesmen of the era – everyone from Skip James, Muddy Waters and Albert King to Buddy Guy, Albert Collins and B.B. King – at their gigs across the Northeast. He established himself as a member of the beloved Boston band Nine Below Zero before recording with Pinetop Perkins and eventually becoming his band leader.
A hybrid player who fuses blues, rock, gypsy jazz, country and folk into a distinctive style, he’s drawn high praise from Guy, who told him: “You’re as bad as Clapton – and I know Eric Clapton!” He’s released a handful of albums under his own name since the ‘90s, most recently the well-received Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven in 2017.
A powerful album of blues rock that was conceived out of his own personal struggles, the three originals and eight covers here span about 80 years of musical history, all of which has undergone thorough reinvention. Peter’s backed here by Tom West on keys, Tim Carman on drums and Marc Hickok on bass throughout with guest appearances by Willie Nelson harp player Mickey Raphael, Hill Country superstar guitarist Luther Dickinson, legendary Muscle Shoals keyboard player Spooner Oldham and additional help from percussionist Marco Giovino, bassists Dennis Crouch and Dominic John Davis and guitarist Ted Drozdowski.
The disc opens with “The World Is Upside Down,” a heavy rocker with a strong, dark blues hook. It’s a politically correct complaint about everything that’s wrong in modern society that wonders whether we’re on the verge of the Second Coming or simply the end of mankind. First recorded in the ‘30s, Sleepy John Estes’ “Everybody Oughta Make a Change” is delivered atop a regimented drumbeat as Parcek updates the suggestion first recorded in the ‘30s that it’s high time to change your ways because, after a while, we’re all going to end up in the ground. Brief, stinging runs drive the message home before he soars on six-string in the second half of the song.
The darkness continues with an updated reading of Bob Dylan’s “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’” and a searing instrumental take on Peter Green’s “The Supernatural” before dipping into the catalog of New Orleans jazz man Pleasant Joseph – better known in blues circles as Cousin Joe – for a rapid-fire version of “Life’s a One-Way Ticket” bolstered by Dickinson and Raphael. He reprises his original, “Mississippi Suitcase (Slight Return),” which appeared in a different form on his most previous recent release, before attacking the John Lennon/Paul McCartney classic, “Eleanor Rigby,” a flashy instrumental take that takes the Beatles standard in an entirely new direction.
The mood begins to brighten with a reinvention of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Until My Love Come Down,” country bluesman Frankie Lee Sims’ “She Likes to Boogie Real Low” and Velvet Underground front man Lou Reed’s “Waiting for the Man” before the interesting instrumental, “Head Full of Ghosts,” concludes the action.
While the subject matter here might be a little overwhelming for anyone struggling with his own personal issues, this one will please folks with a strong appreciation for guitarists with over-the-top skills and blues-rock sensibilities. That said, if your mood’s right, here’s a great deal here to appreciate. Like Buddy says, Peter Parcek’s a master.