Robert “Freightrain” Parker’s Outside Ourselves is a nine song collection mixing lengthy compositions, both instrumentals and with vocals, alongside more traditionally condensed numbers with memorable effects. The eight minute long instrumental beginning the release, “Elijah”, serves notice that Parker and his band mates make music for themselves, first and foremost, but possess the necessary skills and spirit to bring listeners along for their imaginative ride. It’s a deceptively simple bit of songcraft, but a deeper listen reveals how the band layers and textures their approach in intelligent and musically challenging ways,. It also illustrates a crucial facet of the band’s identity – Parker and his band are clearly constructing and writing songs with their ears turned towards the stage and how such compositions can unfold for audiences and the musicians themselves. It is built in such a way they can take this anywhere they choose in concert.
Confessional songwriting is, in some ways, one of the unsung stories behind these songs. “Better Man” is an astonishingly honest and vulnerable song lyrically with its roots deep in soulful ground and Parker sings with unabashed forthrightness about the path he’s traveled to arrive here today. Like the first song, “Better Man” covers a lot of ground with a seven minute plus duration, but there’s never any indication of self indulgence and attentive music listeners will once again note how the song is clearly geared for live performance moreso than its admittedly fine studio rendition. The vocal presentation for the album’s title song is stronger than we hear with any of the other track, no slight at all considering how well the vocals are handled across the board on Outside Ourselves. The rich vocal harmonies are the best on the release and another important strength of the album, plain spoken but eloquent lyrical content, shines again here.
“Wake Up” begins with Grace Lougen’s blues steeped guitar and some keyboard vamps from Greg Leech before shifting into smoother verses nevertheless still brimming with rough hewn soul. The chorus is, easily, the punchiest such moment present on the album without ever upsetting the collection’s stylistic balance. The second of the album’s stellar instrumentals arrives with the seventh track “Dark Season Blues”, but if you are expecting some ultra gritty departure from the surrounding songs, you will not get it. Instead, the band brings listeners along through some of the most smoothly dispatched, yet powerful, blues changes you’ll ever hear and it’s another of the album’s tracks seemingly set up as a template for them to spin off into extended jams for live audiences.
Parker satisfyingly bookends his release with a reprise of the opening instrumental “Elijah” and this greatly abbreviated treatment of the instrumental focuses all of the composition’s strengths in a more condensed fashion without ever losing the spirit of the original. Lovers of blues, soul, and funk will flock to this release and even a cursory listen to its riches reveals why Parker and the album are garnering so much attention for their talents.