David Parmley, a hero to fans of the Flatt & Scruggs style of traditional bluegrass music, has finally returned to touring and recording. As the lead singer for The Bluegrass Cardinals in the 1970s and ’80s, David helped establish a standard for baritone vocalists in bluegrass, one his fans say has yet to be bettered.
He struck out on his own in the ’90s, hoping to find favor with the Nashville country scene and working with Scott Vestal as Continental Divide, but his strength was always in the passionate delivery of soulful bluegrass ballads. In the aughts, he had returned to a more traditional sound, but gave up music in 2008 to work as a bus driver for country stars Rascall Flatts.
But as he told us in an interview last year, the bluegrass bug had been nipping at his heels and a decision was made to return to music in 2016.
In a nod to the music that won him eternal devotion from Bluegrass Cardinal fans, Parmley has renamed his band Cardinal Tradition, and they have been burning up the stage at Bean Blossom, Rockahock, MACC, and others this season. And if you enjoyed his music with the Cardinals, you are going to love their debut, self-titled project.
Serious Cardinals fans will notice a few familiar titles here. David recut the Randall Hylton classic, Country Poor, Country Proud, which he recorded originally with them in 1983, and you can hear the greater depth and intensity in his voice after thirty years of seasoning. There’s also a version of Cora’s Gone which the Cardinals did on their own debut album in 1977, and a reprise of Are You Missing Me, a Louvin Brothers oldie from that same project.
But there is plenty of new material as well. Buffalo, WY songwriter David Stewart contributes a pair, the opening track Too Wet To Plow, a nice mid-tempo song with a familiar Parmley farming theme, and Bluegrass State Of Mind, which closes things out with a 1-4-5 drive vibe where David demonstrates how much emotion you can evoke with a voice as deep as his.
A couple of country classics also get the Parmley treatment here. Charley Pride’s Wonder Could I Live There Anymore opens with twin fiddles reminiscent of the ’71 hit, and there’s a reworking of Vern Gosdin’s 1998 recording of Baby That’s Cold, a real tear-jerker that Gosdin co-wrote with Max Barnes and Hank Cochran. The latter is a song custom made for David Parmley, and is sure to become one of his most requested numbers.
Another one destined to be a fan favorite is David Coffey’s Wrong Side Of The Door, where the singer discovers that his key no longer opens his front door, summed up in the line, “I came in around four, found my suitcase on the floor.” Cold… and lonesome.
Cardinal Tradition bassist Ron Spears wrote The Hills Of Home, which he also sings on the record. It’s a reminiscence about what we lose when we leave home behind. Mandolinist Doug Bartlett gets a lead on The First Time I Heard About Heaven, a lovely Gospel song from Jr. Rambo.
As you might expect, David has assembled a top-flight band to tour as Cardinal Tradition. Dale Perry handles the banjo and Steve Day is on fiddle, along with Spears and Bartlett. All do a fabulous job on this new recording, but make no mistake… David Parmley is the star of this show, and his voice still has the ability to rattle the rafters.
At this point, it seems the only place to get David Parmley & Cardinal Tradition is to order through the band web site, or pick one up at one of their live appearances. But David says that it will soon be available from online download sites as well.
It’s hard to get much better than David Parmley singing a good ol’ bluegrass song. Any fan of traditional bluegrass should want this one in your collection.