Like the local dive bar’s perennial drunkard, Parker Smith’s music has that rare ability to thrive while at its scrappiest. All aching pedal steel and cigarette-soaked pleas, Smith seems to put his own spiritual turmoil in a chokehold, elevating it until he squeezes out the elegant songs that make for his forthcoming sophomore LP, Underground, which is due out April 9th. Unlike most of his peers in the Americana community, Smith manages to defy being pigeonholed by inflecting his music with touches of blue-eyed soul (“Fray”), Asbury Park-indebted blues-rock (“Holy Water”), and even Gordon Lightfoot (“Arrowroot”).
Though Underground might technically fall under the umbrella of a “quarantine album,” these songs differentiate themselves from Smith’s oeuvre in their raw, confessional nature and their hummability: these are songs not easily shaken from memory. And aptly so, as the album itself deals with the pain, guilt, and heartbreak inherent in engaging with some of your deepest memories.
Of course, this album wouldn’t have been possible were it not for the crack-team of artists and players he assembled. Colin Agnew and Noah Kess both lent their production and mixing talents, while Colin also played drums and percussion and John Kingsley (pedal steel), Mimi Naja (backing vocals), Chris Case (keys), and Kelly McFarling (backing vocals) round out the supporting cast.
Ultimately, Underground is the sound of living and of life, of the ways we grapple with our pasts, and of the ways we forge through the murkiest depths of the current. All told, Underground stands as a breathtaking work of Americana and the American spirit in 2020, perennially sinking, but always moving forward.
The album’s main theme is most concisely captured on “Arrowroot” – another name for the invasive plant kudzu – and today Glide is excited to premiere this standout track. The acoustically picked song finds Smith slyly recounting the disruptive nature of memory itself and, as Smith himself tells it, “trying to clear your head when all of that [memory] is weighing you down.” The addition of a delicately plucked mandolin gives the song a down home bluegrass sound that complements Smith’s soulful country-folk. Smith’s vocals are straightforward and soothing as he serves up vivid, literary-minded lyrics while backed by soft gospel harmonies and an easy-going instrumental arrangement.
Smith describes the inspiration and process behind the song:
“‘Arrowroot’ was the last song that I wrote and recorded for the album. Making Underground was the first time recording out of my home studio, and I was finally getting the process dialed in. Arrowroot (specifically Japanese or Chinese Arrowroot) is another name for kudzu, an invasive species that we have plenty of in Atlanta. These vines take over the existing plants and block out all of the sunlight.
When I wrote the song, I was waiting for someone to return my call and had a guitar in my hands. It was August of last year, and I was trying to adjust to a new routine of having a lot of time on my hands and struggling to stay focused. The inspiration came from feeling trapped inside your four walls and struggling with the monotony of each day. Even as each day seemed the same in my little world, things were changing outside. The moon, the plants, the rain and the sun, and it was an affirmation that life does go on even when we feel stuck in a repetitive routine.
I knew I wanted a sparse arrangement for this song and to feel different than the rest of the record, so I brought in some old friends. I went to high school with Mimi Naja and Kelly McFarling, both excellent singer-songwriters in their own right, and they agreed to add their talents. Mimi wove some beautiful mandolin lines throughout the song, and Kelly added some graceful background vocals. Mimi lives in Nashville, and Kelly is in California, and I would have never thought to collaborate with them on the record had it not been for the pandemic. We’d played some shows together a while back, and it was a great way to reconnect with them (virtually). Colin Agnew (drums) tried playing a full-kit on this song, but ultimately the pandeiro (a small hand-held drum that resembles a tambourine popular in Latin music), shaker, and triangle won out. All three musicians added their own personal, tasteful touch to this tune.”