Whether you know him as Richie Havens’ long-time sideman – Walter Parks held that role for a decade – or as the irreverent purveyor of swamp-rock in his own band Swamp Cabbage, the one thing that people know about Walter Parks is that he is some guitar player. Which makes the announcement of his new album all the more welcome. The album is performed by Walter Parks & The Unlawful Assembly and is titled The Unlawful Assembly and will be released on Atomic Sound Record Company via Atomic Sound on September 10th. On it Walter Parks reinterprets a range of hollers, spirituals and shape note hymns. It’s music that he says has a wide crossover of appeal: “We can play a country church in Mississippi, or we can draw a crowd at a hipster club in Brooklyn. We connect with a wide-ranging audience. The joy, gratitude, pain and yearning in these songs is universally felt.”
Parks is known for his swampy style and gravelly vocals, as well as being an astute music historian. In 2020, he was invited by The Library of Congress to archive his research on and perform his arrangements of music made by homesteaders in the Okefenokee Swamp, and this led on to the recording of the new album. He has traced the intertwining of the musical styles of the different settlers who passed through this region: “As a way of enduring hell on Earth and yearning for a better life from the cruel bonds of slavery, African Americans created and sang spirituals, field hollers, code songs and work chants that often borrowed from the Biblical narratives and hymns of their oppressors. Those same spirituals, chants and hollers would soon inspire the great American roots music that followed – blues and jazz which would later inspire gospel, rhythm and blues, soul, folk and rock and roll. Ironically, as if coming full circle, more than a century after emancipation, I and millions of American youth would learn of the blues only because of rock and roll interpretations emanating from England – the country that was once command central for the slave trade and the source of many classic Christian hymns, which influenced the spirituals.”
As a taster for what to expect in September, here’s Walter Parks’ 2020 recording for the Library of Congress.