Harlem Parlour Music Club
Harlem Parlour Records

There’s something to be said for roots music being made for all the right reasons. The Harlem Parlour Music Club sings it like they love it from the assembled multitude’s hearts and souls, without a scintilla of the studied or the snobbish about it. The liner copy lists no less than 15 pickers and singers of various stripes as HPMC members, and collectively they describe themselves in a press release as an “Appalachian big band!” So there is little here of a spare or stark nature, but it is also, for the multiplicity of participants, without clutter, the instruments clearly defined sonically, but on a pure, gut level, together, and sounding very right and real.

The Harlem Parlour Music Club, ‘Runaway Train,’ lead vocal by Allison Cornell

It’s more important that the singers sound real, though, and this they most certainly do, beginning with Darden Smith’s husky, expressive tenor giving the spiritual lift to his own backwoods-style testimony, “Dyin’ To Be Born Again.” Over a loping, ominous arrangement spiced by accordion, banjo and thumping percussion, Mary Lee Kortes takes the fork in the road Smith disdained on the previous song, questioning the power of faith in a mean world in “Greater Good.” The lope of “Greater Good” turns into an outright gallop on “Runaway Train,” an energetic, bluesy workout that sounds far happier in its musical thrust (David Mansfield stands out with a terrific, fleeting dobor solo about midway through) and ebullient group harmonies than its lyrics suggest. Ms. Kortes, a most impressive songwriter, returns late on the disc with an emotional, six-minutes-plus story song, “Trucks of Pennsylvania,” an incisively observed account of a woman’s troubled Christmas Day trip back to a lover she knows only from a brief meeting and an address scribbled on a matchbook. The music strides purposely forward, grim and foreboding, with a bit of gypsy flavor in the choruses, as the story unfolds—it involves an attempted robbery, gunplay, murder and a sudden detour—both physical and metaphysical—to another life. This tale will definitely hold your attention, as will the HPMC’s rich treatment of Sly Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again),” with its funky female chorus chanting over a jittery, banjo-driven arrangement that seethes as insistently as the music surges and the mixture boils steadily over a medium musical flame. It’s one of many good ideas on Salt of the Earth, which on the whole sounds like the beginning of something good.—David McGee

Salt of the Earth is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024