TO BEST UNDERSTAND the Parson Red Heads, you need to go home. Once there, gently slide your index finger horizontally over the worn cardboard spines of your parents' LP collection, and chances are the names that surface under the soft dusting of neglect will ring true for both you, your folks, and the Parson Red Heads. There is immense comfort in such an activity and that's precisely the feeling achieved by Yearling, the newest and most complete effort from the Parson Red Heads. It's a record that harkens to a distinct time (oh, let's say 1971) and place (deep in the communal heart of Laurel Canyon), yet it never leans too heavily on the tired crutch of nostalgia.
While their peers might be held hostage by their emotions, the Parsons' songwriting team of Evan Way and Sam Fowles are tender with restraint, balancing emotional weight with a breezy, untucked casual feel. Not so much shrugged indifference as an undisturbed cool, the very essence of the sun-drenched dreams of the Golden State. Yearling marks the quartet's (the band is rounded out by Charlie Hester, and Way's better half, Brette Marie Way) debut for Portland imprint Arena Rock Recording Company, a destination recording that neatly wraps up the restless travels of a band perpetually in motion.
The Parsons came of age in Eugene and Springfield, and when it came time for them to move beyond the hicks versus hippies battleground of central Oregon, they looked north to Portland, but pointed the van south to Los Angeles instead. "I knew I didn't want to go to Portland, because at that time everyone was moving to Portland," explains Evan Way. "Portland was an hour and a half away. That's not moving. It's not what we wanted to do, we wanted to do something."
That something was an effort to defy the connotation that all bands relocate to Los Angeles under the unrealistic seduction of rock star ambitions. Instead the change of scenery forced the band to hone their craft, and in time, it did them wonders. No strangers to a jangling chorus (Velvet Crush and Teenage Fanclub fans will admire the band's occasional power-pop tendencies), the Parson Red Heads' warm Americana sound was a natural fit for their adopted hometown. As years passed, shows soon gave way to residences, and scattered songs blossomed into a series of well-received recordings.
Yet every California dream eventually ends, and last year the Parson Red Heads packed up the guitars and H Bar C shirts and headed north, this time with Portland as the intended destination. "It seemed like a good time for a change of pace. Also, we were touring a lot more than when we went down there, and the rent was so high," explains Way. "Why am I touring to get home to work a ton just in order for me to keep my apartment? We'd come home to a 400-square-foot studio and think, 'Glad we toured so hard, just so I can pay my $1,000 for this place.'"
The band's seamless rock and roll sound also migrated north, and now they share a home with a series of local acts on similar footing (Alela Diane, Blitzen Trapper, to name a few). Yet as Yearling proves, home is merely a concept, and no matter where the Parson Red Heads rest their weary ginger heads there will be comfort and great music close by.