As a producer and player, John Parish has worked with artists such as PJ Harvey, Eels, 16 Horsepower and Tucsonans Howe Gelb/Giant Sand and Naim Amor. Listening to his new solo album Once Upon a Little Time, it's easy to see Parish and Gelb as kindred souls. Some of the tracks, putting texture and feel above structure, are little more than ambient snippets. Even the loudest and most focused songs have a hazy, diffused quality that makes them hard to bring into focus without a few listens. The gently rollicking "Kansas City Electrician" is the most straightforward of the lot and kicks up some boot-heel dust among the fuzzed-out guitars. "Even Redder Than That" is pop perfection; "Somebody Else" is a stately but off-hand amble through a thicket of space-age cabaret musings. Parish sings in a dreamy drawl that doesn't seem to owe allegiance to any particular geographical or emotional place, by equal turns melancholy and hopeful.
Fortunately, it all really does sound terrific and holds together as a whole. Parish has a real gift for creating deeply texturalized musical soundscapes that sound sparse and lush simultaneously. Recorded largely in Italy with a core group of Italian musicians, with guests from Portishead and Nick Cave's and PJ Harvey's bands, it's an international affair. It's definitely a different kind of listening experience for those wanting conventionally structured songs, sharp hooks and clearly linear lyrics, but one with its own kind of rich and lasting rewards.