On the road for music

Jill Fisher

Erik Koskinen at Glensheen. Photos by Jill Fisher.

A week off from writing was appreciated, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the summertime live music that’s available for us in the Twin Ports. The July 22 concert with The Gemstones in honor of AfroGeode and One Less Guest at Earth Rider was tops on my to-hear list. Good stuff.

Then there was a bit of New Salty Dog on Monday, July 24, at Bent Paddle. Always fun. Best of all was Wednesday, July 26 with Erik Koskinen at Glensheen’s Concert on the Pier followed by some of Buckwild’s gig at Pier B. Dancing heaven!

My only disappointments were the cancellation of the JoJo Green concert at Chester Park on Tuesday, July 25, (reportedly due to the illness of a band member) and missing the Finn Fest concert on Thursday, July 27.

For a couple of hours on Tuesday, I thought we had a pop-up jam happening at Carmody Irish Pub. This 83-year-old character, Nevada Bob Gordon, was in town to visit Ed Newman (who provided heavy editing of Gordon’s memoir, 50 Years With the Wrong Woman). He has recorded seven albums in Nashville and was taking a circuitous route from Nashville back to Nevada.

I listened to a CD Gordon recorded in Nashville with a professional backup band, his deep bass voice was pretty impressive on good ol’ country standards. Alas, he does not play guitar himself nor does he know many songs by heart. “House of the Rising Sun” was the one he was prepared to perform if only he had an accompanist. A last-minute posting on Facebook did not attract the musicians we hoped for. The real problem was timing, as Rory Van James and Clancy Ward were about to begin their set when Gordon and crew arrived at 9 pm. C’est la vie!

So why would I hit the road for a concert, when there is so much live music right here in the Twin Ports? Well, I could not pass up the chance to see Joyann Parker. I first heard her at the 2021 Bayfront Blues Festival. This was before I began writing this column, so the fact that I was impressed enough then to buy a CD of her album, Out of the Dark, is telling.  

I had high expectations of her free outdoor concert at Silver Bay City Park on Friday, July 28. I was not disappointed. The threat of rain, with sprinkles on the hour-long drive up the shore was worrisome, but fortunately the front blew through and the show went on.  

Joyann Parker and band in Silver Bay.

Parker had her full band with her for this gig and they were cookin’. Members include Tim Witt (keyboards), Chris Bates (bass), Mark Lamoine (electric guitar and vocals), Bill Golden (drums and vocals) and Scotty Graves (sax, trombone, flute, acoustic guitar and bongos!). The first song they performed was a cover of the Neville Brothers’ “Fire on the Bayou.”

Several other covers were included, such as Etta James’ “I’d Rather Be Blind,” but most of the songs were original compositions by Parker from the three albums she’s released thus far – Hard To Love (2018), Out of the Dark (2021) and Roots (2023). Seven out of the 13 songs on the latter album, including the title track, were on Parker’s set list this evening.   For the most part her songs are emotionally ladened, dealing with difficult intimate relationships and self-questioning. “Fool For You” from Out of the Dark is one that expresses the frustration of loving someone who is committed to another. “Old Flame” from Roots was a slower ballad guaranteed to make many weep. Another number from that album, “What’s Good For You,” spelled it out “…it ain’t me.”  

What makes Parker’s songs so striking and memorable is her full-out gutsy vocals and bluesy renditions of her own heartrending lyrics. And blues wasn’t the only genre her performance included. “Evil Hearted” from Hard To Love had a jazzy flare, while “Juxtaposition” was something of a cross between reggae and New Orleans jazz; “Stay Home Mama” continued with a New Orleans sound.

When a song called for more nuance, such as the cover of the Patsy Cline hit, “I Fall To Pieces,” she sang it slow and sultry. This cover was right in line with the lovelorn themes of her own repertoire, plus it provided a teaser for an upcoming concert (more about that below). Parker herself remarked that her music can’t be pinned down to one genre.  

Parker’s band of old men knew what they were doing. All excellent musicians, they provided nice, right-on harmonies and were cool with having her be center stage. They could swing, rock and go wherever she led. Although not obligatory (we weren’t in Duluth after all) Parker stepped aside to let Lemoine sing lead on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” near the end of the concert. For an encore, the band performed the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” which the audience sang along with.  

I really can’t praise Joyann Parker and her music enough. She gives it her all in performance and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her CDs. She will be performing in various locations throughout Wisconsin this August, with stops in Minnesota (St. Paul, Fridley,and White Bear Lake) as well. Check out her tour schedule at joyannparker.com. Not to be missed is the upcoming benefit concert for the Duluth Armory Arts and Music Center on Oct. 12 at the West Theater, where Parker will sing the music of Patsy Cline. It’s on my schedule, so see you there!  

On another note: The North radio station at 103.3 (formerly KUMD) celebrated FinnFest by devoting its Folkways hour to the theme of Finnish saunas and songs that celebrated them. I was more than delighted to hear “Sauna Song” by the Finnish-reggae band Conga Se Menne (out of Marquette, Michigan, but no longer extant) that I got turned onto back in the ‘90s. Another fun surprise was a track off Sauna Music by de Elliot bros. (which I was a member of back in the day).

Now I hear that the annual U.S. FinnFest will be back here in Duluth for the next five years, so we will have more chances to explore their contributions to our music scene. Ya gotta love those Finns! 

Joyann Parker