According to the Parson Red Heads singer/guitarist Evan Way’s voluminous press notes about the band’s new album, Blurred Harmony, it’s “more a true part of us than any record we have made before.” Way’s statement should comfort longtime fans—they aren’t going to rock the boat this time around.
Blurred Harmony is exactly what you might expect from the roots-rock band: a cozy collection of tunes that pulls influences from psychedelia and Americana in for a snuggle. Plenty of other Portland outfits go for the same kind of embrace—the Parson Red Heads just do it better than most.
Way’s notes also emphasize that, for the first time, the band recorded all by themselves. It reflects the confidence that the quartet exhibits throughout this warm, hearty record. They know which strains of jangle and fuzz and shimmer will land the right emotional effect.
When Way sings of wrestling with the past and fears for the future on “What Have I Become,” it is to the sound of a fingerpicked acoustic underpinned by a misty swirl of electric guitar tones. “Sunday Song” ambles along like a peaceful weekend morning, and the slight mental distress found in the lyrics of “Coming Down” is soothed by the music’s Big Star-like attack.
Way should consider taking some chances with his lyrics. Their plainspoken quality certainly helps to make his point as clearly as possible, but it also feels like he’s holding back somehow, or worse, not trusting that his audience will be able to follow if he takes off on some poetic flights.
But that’s not what the Parson Red Heads provide. Outside of the lovely sound collage that closes the album, the quartet is fine playing to their base and doing what they do well. It’s gotten them this far—why mess with a good thing?