Tell The Truth (Vanguard Records)

album review for 8-3
album cover

I declare I've been set free, Lee Roy Parnell sings on his new album - and no one who hears Tell The Truth will doubt him.

After a decade on a major label, Lee Roy has cut his ties to Music City's major labels and jumped to an independent. With no pressure to pump out country radio hits anymore, he's free to make the kind of sweat-drenched, guns-blazing, house-rockin' music he grew up with - a style he has been edging back toward for years.

Lee Roy's work has always been grittier than the Nashville norm, but on Tell The Truth he digs in his heels and stakes out his real territory once and for all: roadhouse Texas rock crossed with a heaping helping of Memphis soul. From the opening notes of "Right Where It Hurts," with Lee Roy's flamethrower guitar licks singeing the swelling horn section, Tell The Truth never gets below a steady simmer - and sometimes erupts into an all-out house fire, as on the torrid "South By Southwest" and the Allman Brothers Band-like "Crossin' Over."

The ballads are heartfelt but never short on groove, from the classic soul sound of "Breaking Down Slow" to the title track, which recalls his sublime 1992 hit "Love Without Mercy." Lee Roy also dips into acoustic blues on "I Declare" and works up a full-on gospel fervor on "Brand New Feeling." Best of all is "Takes What It Takes," seven sizzling minutes of swing highlighted by guitar workouts from Lee Roy and former Allmans guitarist Jack Pearson.

Delbert McClinton, Bonnie Bramlett and Keb' Mo' turn up for duets, and all are just fine. But Tell The Truth is all about Lee Roy himself, and what happens when a good ol' boy from Austin forgets about the charts and fires from his heart: He gets set free.

- Chris Neal

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