The Parson Red Heads Meditate on Trials and Tribulations Through Twangy Folk-rock on ‘Lifetime of Comedy’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

For their fifth studio album Lifetime of Comedy, Portland, Oregon folk-rock outfit The Parson Red Heads were faced with the kind of hurtles that many bands have experienced in this year from hell. The album recording was delayed due to the pandemic, which was preceded by the departure of founding guitarist Sam Fowles, who left the band following the release of their 2017 LP, Blurred Harmony. These looming factors played a major role in the formation of Lifetime of Comedy and the resulting sound, which finds the indie rockers producing some of their finest work to date.

Opening with the somber and twangy meditation of piano and pedal steel guitar on “Heaven Knows I’m Trying,” the album immediately sets a tone of reckoning and reconciliation with plenty of self-reflection to go around. The song bleeds into the moving track “All I Wanted,” which comes into a more uptempo drum beat and shimmering guitar to contrast with that sweet pedal steel that seems to intertwine like ivy throughout many of the album’s songs. Vocalist/guitarist Evan Way reflects on the current state of the band, a sentiment that continues on the softly strummed “Fall & Be Found,” a song that finds the band marrying power pop and folk in a manner reminiscent of the Jayhawks. The album’s title track “Lifetime of Comedy” strikes an ironic chord in this year of darkness, and Way touches on this as he contemplates his own journey and what the future holds over an airy groove that brings to mind the War on Drugs as the song culminates with a blistering guitar jam with Jake Smith delivering some of his finest work on the record. This transcendent mood continues with “Coming Along” as the band works in blissful harmonies and steel guitar to create a buoyant feeling of joy. “I Never Would Have Changed” mixes things up with a spunkier, straightforward power pop sound before “Turn Around” shimmers with an upbeat, organ groove that contrasts with lush orchestration and vocals that look towards new beginnings. Slow ballad “I Found a Reason” finds Way continuing to work towards redemption and love as he weaves his vocals around Smith’s delicate guitar lines, while “Warrior” sees the band tapping into a 70s country-folk sound that brings to mind the softer fare of acts like the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash. “Dreaming of Another Place” switches gears into a 60s psych-pop sound as the band’s lyrical harmonies speak to a state of mind that many of us have likely had as the world seems to go to shit.

Lifetime of Comedy closes with the sparse and enchanting “Falling Fading,” a piano-driven nugget of dreamy folk-pop that dwells on the importance of slowing down your pace. This song is a proper final chapter in a collection of songs that deal with a range of emotions and a group of artists figuring out how to process them. It’s at this point that The Parson Red Heads bring us back to earth after taking us on a journey that begins with hardship and confrontation before giving way to reflection and ultimately to coming to terms with reality. They do all of this with a sense of grace and a penchant for crafting expansively gorgeous soundscapes, making a Lifetime of Comedy an album of lyrical and musical depth that warrants repeat listens.

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