Parsonsfield afterparty Flirts Boundaries of Chaos

Signature Sounds 2067
* * ½

How do you like your old-time (ish) music, straight up or mashed? Languid and melancholic, or caffeinated and raucous? Controlled or ragged? I generally get bored with stuff that hews too straight to tradition. In that spirit, Parsonsfield (formerly Pure Old Shine) ought to be just my shot of Old Red Eye. And so they are, but just one shot, not the whole jug. There is much to be admired about this young band, not the least of which is that everyone in it has a good voice and they know how to harmonize. They also sport a fine balance of whimsical songs (Mississippi John Hurt's "Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me"), funky (a cover of Bert Jansch's "Strollin' Down the Highway"), 50's style doowop rock ("Anita, Your Lovin'"), and some old-time mountain pathos ("Hang Me" and "Lay Some Flowers on My Grave.") Not only do these five lads sing well, they're also fine musicians on everything from the usual stringed instruments to things such as glockenspiel, trumpet, and musical saw.

So why a middling rating? Frankly, these guys exhaust me. afterparty is an EP and its seven tracks are pretty close to my limit. The reason lies in the execution, not the effort. These tracks involve the kind of involvement one puts into training a kitten–both the fun parts and the moments when you just want things to calm down. That is to say, Parsonsfield tends to arrange material that teeters on the brink of chaos. Usually they pull back just in the nick of time, but sometimes they don't. I get the idea that they wanted to make a spirited album evocative of evenings when the real party begins when the official one ends. I also get it that they wanted to keep the mood light and the music unrestrained. Oddly, though, all this full-tilt energy has the net effect of making seven really different songs feel the same. There's a reason why more experienced lineups spend a lot of time working on the pacing of their set lists. afterparty still makes it onto my personal playlist, but I like it a whole lot better when it's loaded on my iPod with other albums and the mode set to shuffle.  Rob Weir

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