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Mel Parsons

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Cover of Parsons' latest album, "Red Grey Blue"
I found Mel Parsons' music through a series of coincidences.  I was on a website looking up a creative business in the Milwaukee, WI area when, out of curiosity, I clicked on a podcast that was linked to on that site.  After shuffling through nearly a dozen different artists and listening to snippets of just as many songs, I landed on Parsons' performance.  Hailing from New Zealand, she had been in the States when the set was recorded at an open mic/jam series.  I don't recall what songs Parsons played, but they caught my interest enough for me to close out the podcast after her performance was over and to look her up.  "Darlin' Darlin"" was the first clip that I found, and I was instantly taken in by the light-hearted playfulness of the video and Parsons' rich vocals.

"Still Life" was the next video I found, and the pensive and melancholy tone of this song was a nice contrast to the more pop music sound of "Darlin' Darlin"".  For a brand new fan like me, it showcased the wider range present in Parsons' songwriting, and the dichotomy of emotions in her work was something that I could relate to very easily.  By this time, I was intrigued enough that I wanted to find out about the background of this artist, so I searched for an official website to learn more.

I immediately discovered that Mel Parsons isn't new to the music scene. She grew up on the rural West Coast of New Zealand, and has spent the past ten years travelling and touring, segueing some of those experiences into material for her work. Parsons has been influenced by a variety of artists including Crosby, Stills & Nash, Mumford and Sons, Dire Straits, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young.  She released her debut album, "Over My Shoulder", in 2009, and it was nominated for the Folk Album of the Year in the New Zealand Music Awards that same year.  Though her music has a discernible folk aspect, it would be a shame and a mistake to simply lump it in to that, or any, category.  The song "Pleasure and Pain" is jazzier, with some listeners possibly detecting just a slight tinge of rockabilly.  All of Parsons' music has a certain quality about it though, as if she's glad to sit back and share her stories of happiness, along with heartache that made her waver.  Even in the case of songs that take on a more serious tone, you feel that ultimately, she'll be all right, and regain her balance in the end.  It's that down to earth and living real life point of view that appeals to me.  Parsons isn't existing in some superstardom bubble that leaves her out of touch with the grittiness of daily life.  Instead, she slogs along just like the rest of us, and comes through it with grace and a healthy dose of humor.

Mel Parsons (photo credit: Max Lemeshenko)
As Parsons created her second, and latest, album "Red Grey Blue" over the course of the summer and autumn months of 2011, she worked with a host of musicians, many of them well-known in New Zealand and abroad.  The finished product doesn't sound overproduced though, and the intimate quality of Parsons' work remains.  Following in the steps of its predecessor, the album was also nominated for the New Zealand Music Awards' Folk Album of the Year, this time for 2011.

I feel like I happened upon Parsons' music at just the right time.  There are two albums for me to go back and delve into, and I can still follow her career as it continues to develop from here out.  I'm encouraged by the fact that she seems to visit the States on a somewhat regular basis (based on the US-recorded podcast mentioned earlier and that her video for the song "I Won't Let You Down" was shot in San Francisco).  I'd jump at the chance to see her play live if she happens to tour here in the future.

To discover more of Parsons' work for yourself by hearing selected tracks from both of her albums, read a more complete bio, get current news and more, head over to her personal website at  http://www.melparsons.com/, and look up her page on Facebook.  You can also find both "Over My Shoulder" and "Red Grey Blue" on iTunes.