By Jennifer Henn
His new album is called “Maybe I’m Running Away,” but musician Randy Parsons doesn’t want to be anywhere else in the world other than the home he has, tucked away in the woods of Springs.
In fact, most of the songs on the record are about or inspired by the East End. The musicians featured on the tracks are also local. And the recording session was done in a garage studio less than a mile from Parsons’ house.
“I’ve been calling it a ‘farm-to-ear production’,” he said. “I’m tending to work with what’s here, in this area, in terms of talent and facilities, which I don’t see as a limitation, but a blessing.
“It’s what I always hoped for, because there’s such a vibrant and varied and rich music community here.”
The album, by Randy Parsons and Friends, is composed of six songs, including two instrumentals. Parsons wrote the music and lyrics and he plays guitar on all the tracks. It was produced by Parsons through his Lily Hill Music label and John Leitch, also known as Johnny Blood, engineered by Blood and recorded and mixed at Johnny Blood’s House of Ill Repute studio in Springs.
Joining Parsons on the album is part-time East End resident Devon Leaver on vocals, saxophonist John Ludlow of Bridgehampton, drummer Richard Rosch of East Hampton — best known for his work with the Nancy Atlas Project, Dan Koontz of Sag Harbor on keyboards and Leitch/Blood on drums and keyboard. Though they enjoy working together, this is purely a studio band and the group doesn’t have any plans to perform live together in promotion of the album, Parsons said. For the most part, they’re a collection of musicians who prefer to perform solo or with other groups locally.
Mutual admiration prompted most of them to participate when Parsons came calling.
“Working with Randy is something I always look forward to,” Ludlow said in a recent interview. “In each of these tunes on the album is a unique sound that only he can deliver. There is diversity throughout the album while maintaining … his unique style.”
For Leaver, the collaboration with Parsons was entirely new and entirely enjoyable.
“It was the most wonderful surprise for me. He approached me after a show and asked about a specific bossa nova piece and from there we laid it down in pretty short order,” she said in an interview. “Then we just kind of started to expand from there, one song at a time.
“We’d sit on the porch for a little bit — talk, relax, then go into the studio itself. It was very relaxed and chill.”
Relaxed and chill are two words that could also be used to describe Parsons himself. Born in Tennessee, raised in New England and molded by his adulthood in New York City and the East End, the 67-year-old composer began playing guitar and performing in bands in the 1960s. He studied music at the Juilliard School, New York University and the New School and studied lyric writing at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“Maybe I’m Running Away” is his fifth album. The title track was originally featured in ASCAPs Song to Song Showcase in New York in March 1998. The album version is a new recording.
“It’s about a trip I made to Costa Rica a long time ago and it has a bossa nova vibe,” Parsons explained. “At the time I was thinking about not coming back. I did though, and all these years later I wanted to revisit the song with a fresh take and some sax on it.”
Ludlow provided the sax on that track and three others.
“There was no physical music to read. If Randy heard something in his head that he thought would be appropriate in a certain spot, then he would try to dictate it to me (or play it on his guitar) and I would do my best to deliver,” Ludlow said. “Most of the music I contributed was improvised, so my goal was to try to match the feel of each song with the appropriate melodies and rhythms.”
“Hideaway,” another song on the album, features Leaver on vocals singing about living in a spot separate from the world, a kind of bubble of peace and tranquility. For Parsons, that escape is his home in Springs.
“I live in a house on an old farm. I get to see and experience Springs in an unchanged way back there,” he said. “It’s not overly influenced by the modern world and here I’m not stressed by modern life.”
Koontz plays piano on the song with Rosch on drums, Leitch/Blood on bass and the songwriter on guitar. “Sun Song,” inspired by the music his parents once played for him during summers spent on the East End, was the first recorded for the album. In fact, at the time he recorded it with his fellow musicians, Parsons didn’t know there would be an album, but the experience working on “Sun Song” was so positive that it led to another song, and then another.
“Everything about that one is a tribute to the sun and beach culture that I learned to love as a kid,” Parsons said. “It was pure warmth and relaxation and joy and that bossa nova sound in there is something I keep coming back to.”
“Heartbroke,” another track on the album, is an emotional song that Parsons said evolved over many years. It finally came to completion after the songwriter lost one of his beloved dogs in an accident on thin ice at Napeague Harbor in East Hampton last winter.
“I wove a human story in there as well … you can’t really avoid losing loved ones in this life,” he said. “From breakups to death, it’s [tough,] and we all process it differently.”
Rounding out the album are two instrumental tracks, “Hog Creek Blues,” named for Hog Creek in Springs, and “How ‘Bout a Lift.” Both highlight Ludlow on saxophone, Rosch on drums, Leitch/Blood on bass and Parsons on guitar.
All told, the album took shape over the last two years, not including the writing, Parsons said. Generally speaking, he refers to it as a kind of tribute to all the things the East End makes him feel and hear.
“This is my home and I love it,” said Parsons who, incidentally, also serves on the East Hampton Town Planning Board. “I guess I show that through my service and my music.”
“Maybe I’m Running Away” is available by the track at CD Baby, Spotify, Amazon, Apple iTunes and other digital music sites.