Review Summary: Obadiah Parker brings music back to its foundations with their soulful debut, one that is sure to touch the hearts of all who are willing to listen.
Often times the best music is stripped down. No special studio effects, no glitz, and no larger-than-life production. When one is lucky enough to be treated to such an experience that is executed with both style and abundant talent, it can be oddly rewarding. It takes all of the complexities of your busy life and peels away to your very core, making you realize just how simple and beautiful life was meant to be. It is a feeling that few musicians are able to consistently instill in their listeners, but something that Obadiah Parker seems to do effortlessly in their debut LP, “Obadiah Parker Live”.
Obadiah Parker is actually not the name of any one member of the band, but is rather the name of the band itself. It is composed of vocalist/guitarist Matt Weddle, keyboardist Jessie Young, and bassist Daniel Zehring. Young and Zehring also provide additional backing vocals. The band has been compared to Counting Crows and The Dave Matthews Band, who also serve as primary influences over this very young indie group. Obadiah Parker sprang into popularity when Sam Lloyd’s band, The Blanks, covered their version of “Hey Ya” on an episode during the final season of Scrubs. To this day, Obadiah Parker’s identity has been attached to their cover of this Outkast song. However, this album has much more to offer than just the one hit that brought them to the attention of rock stations and indie fans everywhere.
Obadiah Parker Live brings a whole new level of sincerity and emotion to a combination of covers (some well known, some not as popular) and original tunes. The aforementioned song “Hey Ya” is easily an equal to the original, only with more sentiment. It features crystal clear acoustic strumming, eventually intermixed with Young’s beautiful piano work. For vocals, Weddle fits the bill perfectly. His voice is powerful yet sensitive, and he hits both the high and the low notes with ease. In fact, his singing seems so effortless and graceful that one is given the impression he could blow us all away if he just wanted to. However, that is clearly not his intention…at least with Obadiah Parker Live, he wanted to make music that is magnificently, exquisitely simple. And he succeeds on all levels in “Hey Ya”. “Fall Back” accomplishes a lot of the same goals, even adding a spiritual touch with lines such as, “Until we fall back, onto the great I am…Until we learn to trust in the God of Abraham, we’ll give up what we’ve got, all will be lost.” Every note uttered by Weddle carries an unparalleled emotional weight, and it feels like he is singing nothing but truth straight into the heart of his listeners. In general, he possesses all of the qualities of a great indie vocalist, and if Obadiah Parker ever launches itself into worldwide popularity, his voice is dominant enough to handle that too. But for now, it seems he is more than content to serenade us with straightforward, passionately written compositions. It is largely because of Weddle’s vocal strength that Obadiah Parker’s sound is able to succeed on such a rare level.
Obadiah Parker Live isn’t all about the ballads, however. Many songs are rhythmic jams that tread the line between blues and jazz. One such example would be the first track, “Salvation Jam”, which features perhaps Weddle’s most soulful vocal performance combined with a strong bass line and even a trumpet. The result is a song that has Dave-Matthews-like funk with a completely unique groove, and all of this is accomplished without a drummer. The aforementioned trumpet is actually given a lead role on many parts of the album, most notably “Burnt Offerings” where the trumpet is given a one minute and five second solo. When Obadiah Parker gets into a rhythm, it is damn near impossible not to tap your foot on the ground, your fingers on a desk, or in some way make yourself a part of the music. This is part of what makes their simplistic style so effective – they are able to strip down their music to the bare bones and still involve the listener audibly with the pleasant sounding acoustics, mentally with honest lyrics, and then physically with the bluesy tempo.
Another standout moment on this album is their cover of Radiohead’s “Idioteque”, which is unique enough from the original to once again be surprisingly good. Whereas the original version ventures close to techno-territory, Obadiah Parker’s cover trades the heavy electronic beats for stunningly beautiful piano notes. There is no shortage of bass-heavy transitions, and an atmosphere is created that seems to represent both dark undertones and hopefulness simultaneously. The song ends rather abruptly before leading into another more ballad-like tune, “So Hard to Find”. At 7:34, this track changes tempo several times and includes something of a hidden track as the last 3 minutes are a cover of “Amazing Grace”. This rivals “Hey Ya” as the one of the most beautiful moments on the entire album.
As a whole, Obadiah Parker Live could easily be one of the most overlooked albums of the decade. It was released in 2007, and only within the last year has it begun to receive some of the accolades that it so richly deserves. There is something about Obadiah Parker that makes their music seem relevant to everyone’s life. Perhaps it is Weddle’s sensitive singing style and his relatable lyrics. Maybe it is the way the music is simplified and made pure for a whole new kind of experience. No matter what the reason is, one thing is certain: this is a unique listen. They don’t sugarcoat their music with a ton of production, and they use a great deal of restraint in not attempting to make every song “blow you away”. It is uncomplicated, honest music executed by a trio of skilled musicians. Obadiah Parker brings music back to its foundations with their soulful debut, one that is sure to touch the hearts of all who are willing to listen.