PETER PARCEK – Pledging My Time EP

peter parcekIn 2000, Peter Parcek released his debut album ‘Evolution’, a collection of original material which interspersed with covers of tracks penned by Mose Allison and blues legend Freddie King. The album was available only at live shows and via Parcek’s website. A decade later, his follow-up album, ‘Mathematics of Love’ enjoyed proper distribution and earned him critical acclaim, including a nomination from the Blues Foundation for “best new artist debut” at the 2011 Blues Music Awards. A nomination which was well deserved, since the album was brimming with great moments – not least of all on the Parcek written ‘New Year’s Eve’ (a remixed version of a track which made its debut on ‘Evolution’) and an absolutely storming take of the Peter Green penned ‘Showbiz Blues’ (the original of which can be heard on Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 masterpiece ‘Then Play On’).

There may have been a decade between Peter Parcek’s previous two studio works, but he was quick to follow up ‘Mathematics of Love’, and given the buzz it generated in blues circles, was certainly right to do so. His 2011 EP release ‘Pledging My Time’ sees him re-imagine a few numbers penned by the legendary Bob Dylan. The spacious, emotional approach which Parcek brings to his four chosen covers sometimes changes the mood from that of Dylan’s original vision, but each one really benefits from the passion and musical skill on show here.

Opening with the mush covered ‘She Belongs To Me’, there’s a sense of something friendly and familiar. Parcek tackles the song at the same pace as the original and treats the lyric with a great respect, the words suiting his slightly husky delivery. Musically, it has a great organic, live in the studio feel. The dobro is as clear as a bell during a great solo and provides a few great slide-driven moments elsewhere, while the electric elements add a decent amount of depth. Of particular note is Nick Giammarino’s drum work, which has a simplicity which really fits the mood. ‘Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat’ gets a straight-up blues treatment, showcasing Parcek’s electric lead work – the sound of a man who’s at one with his instrument; his playing appears effortless as he straddles a fine-line between soulful and angry leads, as he is backed by fantastic live sounding drums and a B3 organ. The vocal may not retain the slightly sneering qualities of Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde’ cut, but as far as blues influenced vocals are concerned, Parcek’s delivery is fine enough. For this take of ‘Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat’, it’s definitely the music which does the talking.

The lesser-known ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothing’ (featured on Dylan’s 2009 album ‘Together Through Life’) presents a voyage deeper into the blues. Dylan’s version offered a solid blues vibe, but this reworking takes things up a notch. The root of the song is essentially the same; keeping the Peter Green inspired, ‘Black Magic Woman’ style framework. Beyond that, though, the arrangement featured here is superior, dispensing with the ugly accordion and flat brass work of Dylan’s original cut. Parcek’s guitar tone has a pleasing bite which works well against Larry Vann’s B3 organ swirls. The organ lines develop into a solo which has far more presence than the one featured on the original version. While the tight-but-loose blues vibes create a great atmosphere, it’s Parcek’s lead guitar work which steals the show.

Leaving the best for last, ‘It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’ fades in with echoing guitar and a subtle drum track, giving an almost Daniel Lanois-eque spaciousness. Against a laid back drum-line, blanket of B3 and occasional reverbed guitar, Parcek’s vocal pulls the original lyric in a whole new direction; one which has a cool smoothness and an ache that’s lacking from Dylan’s straight (although still brilliant) bar-room blues approach on his original 1985 recording.

When Dylan’s songs are stripped of their unique vocal and left in the hands of lesser artists, they can sometimes feel a little ordinary, despite retaining their highly original lyrical content. Occasionally though, there are artists who’ve managed to remould Dylan’s works into something (almost) as brilliant in their own right. These versions of Dylan songs may not ever take on a life of their own in the same way as The Byrds’ ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ or Jimi Hendrix’s earth shattering reading of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ (still the greatest Dylan cover ever); however, Parcek and his band must be applauded for twisting these four Dylan songs into brilliantly atmospheric, blues edged workouts which captivate the listener. Although a great singer and musician, it’s his gift for arrangements which really provides the true heart of this EP. For listeners with an interest in blues-based music, or anyone interested in Dylan covers – hopefully both – ‘Pledging My Time’ is an essential purchase.

April 2011