Home Read Now Hear This: Peter Parcek | Mississippi Suitcase

Now Hear This: Peter Parcek | Mississippi Suitcase

I'm getting caught up on the good albums that have come out lately. Like this one.


THE PRESS RELEASE: “Guitar virtuoso and songwriter Peter Parcek stays close to the bone with his haunted, primal new album Mississippi Suitcase. Called “as bad as Eric Clapton” by Buddy Guy, the blues-fueled musical explorer distills 11originals and classics spanning more than 80 years into an eloquent, urgent, and timeless display of the genre’s heart, depth, and durability. Guests include North Mississippi AllstarsLuther Dickinson, Muscle Shoals organist Spooner Oldham and harmonica legend Mickey Raphael.

Mississippi Suitcase is a visionary exploration of the potent and timeless humanity of the blues. Its 11 songs tell a story that resonates from the swamps and flatlands of the 1930s Delta to today’s streets, with the tone and tenor of his guitar speaking eloquently of the pain and joy of life, of the struggle for balance in the modern world, and of his own stunning virtuosity, which marks him as one of the truly great exemplars of blues guitar today.

“This album’s genesis is in profound personal and societal struggle,” the Blues Music Award-nominated artist says. “In recent years I’ve suffered an injury to my wrist and faced never playing again, and other personal challenges that shook me to the core. At the same time, the world has been in turmoil. All of that compelled me to reach as deeply within myself as I could to write about romance, sadness, struggle, and themes that are even, at times, apocalyptic, and to frame the songs I crafted and selected with arrangements and guitar sounds — at times deeply sweet and warm, at times granular and challenging — that helped breathe life into them.”

Parcek’s ability to embrace the deepest traditions of the genre while expanding its boundaries reverberates through his third album, which follows 2017’s Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven and his 2010 Blues Music Awards’ Best Debut Album-nominated The Mathematics of Love. Opener The World is Upside Down is torn from today’s headlines, set to a propulsive groove and enflamed by grinding slide guitar and Hendrix-inspired solos — setting Parcek’s lyrics about existential chaos aflame. His take on Bob Dylan’s Beyond Here Lies Nothing is lovely and bittersweet, with his guitar providing atmospheric colors for this portrait of the preciousness and fragility of love.

This extraordinary guitarist revisits his own roots, and the classic blues songbook, with his version of Peter Green’s mystery-filled instrumental The Supernatural. When Green cut the tune in 1967, as part of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Parcek was finding his legs on the London blues scene, and the song has been part of his DNA ever since — although this is the first time he approached it. Parcek calls the epic tune “a musical mountain to climb,” and yet he ascends it artfully, giving each note of the spare, beautiful melody room to breathe, his guitar soaring over clouds of perfectly controlled and magnificently tasteful feedback.

He struggles with a broken heart on the funky Mississippi Suitcase, sparring with organist Tom West. He trades guitar lines with Luther Dickinson on New Orleans street singer Pleasant Joseph’s Life is a One Way Ticket, which also features harmonica legend Mickey Raphael, and roils in the down ’n’ dirty blues of Sonny Boy Williamson I’s Until My Love Comes Down — with a taste of Cream’s influence in the mix. And Parcek turns Lou Reed’s I’m Waiting for the Man into a sonic, psychedelic-blues field day, with help from legendary organist Spooner Oldham. The album was produced by Ducky Carlisle (Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi, William Bell) and Parcek, with additional production by Marco Giovino, who also drums on several tracks. Other musicians include bassists Dennis Crouch (Gregg Allman, Elvis Costello), Dominic Davis (Jack White) and Marc Hickox, and drummer Tim Carman.

Since his time on the scene in London, where he moved after graduating high school and received an up-close tutorial in six-string mastery by seeing Green, Clapton and Jeff Beck in the clubs where he also played, Parcek has been fueled primarily by blues, but has also ingested the rock, folk, gypsy-jazz and even country elements reflected in his playing. After returning to his hometown of Middletown, Conn, he immersed himself in the influence of Freddie, Albert and B.B. King, Skip James, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. But he launched his career in full when he moved to Boston and became music director for the historic blues pianist Pinetop Perkins.

One night, during a backstage visit to Guy’s dressing room, the Chicago blues legend heard Parcek absentmindedly playing a guitar that had been left lying around. Guy put his fingers to his lips to hush the conversation, and announced with delight, “You’re as bad as Eric Clapton. And I know Eric Clapton.”

That’s the kind of reaction Parcek’s performances have been eliciting for decades now — from his days in the popular New England band Nine Below Zero, who took their name from a Sonny Boy Williamson II song, to his career as a bandleader and solo artist, which really took flight with the release of The Mathematics of Love. That album and his incendiary live playing have won Parcek the New England Music Awards’ Best Blues Artist title and Blues Audience Magazine’s readers’ poll for Best Guitarist. .

“With my new Mississippi Suitcase, I’ve tried to create an album that’s timeless and yet entirely in the moment — an album that could get as deeply under the skin of the listener as it got under mine,” Parcek says. “I had to dig into my soul and face adversity to do it, and sometimes play through the pain, but it was worth it, and every note on the album comes straight from my heart.”