Eight years after he parted ways with Arista Records, Lee Roy Parnell returns to the "big leagues" with Back to the Well, his first album for Universal South, but if anyone was afraid that he might water down his songs or his delivery to score a new major-label deal, the good news is that's not at all the case. Back to the Well leans strongly to the blues-influenced side of Parnell's music rather than the more country-styled and radio-friendly sound of his biggest hits, and Parnell has laid plenty of tough guitar solos over these tunes. Parnell co-wrote all 12 songs on Back to the Well, which range from the hard-won sentimentality of "Daddies and Daughters" to the roadhouse-ready "You Can't Lose 'Em All," with the deep-groove title cut and the Booker T.-meets-Jimmy Smith instrumental "Cool Breeze" bookending the set. Parnell cuts a solid but laid-back figure on this album, which is more about mood and meaning than playing to the grandstands. This album has plenty of energy, but Parnell's focus is on the intensity of the song and the performance rather than bombast, and the results suggest a late-night mood without enough vigor to make it play in the daylight hours. (The production by Parnell and John Kunz suits the tunes perfectly, adding just enough gloss to show off the highlights without losing the grit along the edges.) Back to the Well is certainly one of Parnell's stronger efforts, and anyone who's been wanting to hear him groove on guitar and sing with soul will get a kick out of this.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming
feat: Allison Parnell