Joyann Parker already had the title for her made-during-the-pandemic album. "Out of the Dark." She just hadn't written the tune.
"I wasn't going to have a title track," the singer/guitarist/pianist explained. "I always had that imagery for a long time for this record, with a bunch of healing I've been doing of my own scars — figuring out who I am, who I wanna be, leaving this old person behind.
"I thought that was a good name for the record. I didn't know it was going to be a song."
But the lyrics to "Out of the Dark" came quickly in a bolt of inspiration last summer.
Collaborator and bandmate Mark Lamoine insisted it be the album's final track.
"It is her mastering some sort of feeling that she's not good enough," he said. "I told her: 'You have come out of the dark by the end of the record.' That song was cathartic."
The album, out Friday, is the first in three years for this ascending powerhouse. Now 42, Parker got a midlife start as a nightclub singer. She has no manager, no agent, no record label behind her. But this self-released project is world-class.
A deeply passionate, proudly eclectic collection, "Out of the Dark" is a giant step forward for Parker, ranging from Latin-tinged blues and New Orleans-flavored R&B to barroom boogie and pure '70s pop.
With her dynamically emotional and goosebump-inducing voice, Parker is consistently convincing, whether mourning a lost love (the haunting, Southern gospel-tinged "Gone So Long"), admitting a weakness (the sassy blues "Fool for You"), proclaiming faith and determination (the uplifting blues-rocker "Carry On"), scouting for a dance partner (the buoyant, Sam Cooke-evoking "Come on Baby") or telling it like it is in a relationship (the poppy "What Did You Expect" with its Shania Twain-like spoken line, "Get used to it, honey — we lie").
"They're mostly empowering songs," Parker commented. "I don't mind showing vulnerability but also think there's strength in vulnerability. I feel empowered by sharing those things and acknowledging that I'm struggling, and also this heals me."
These songs also have the potential to heal others who might relate to her narratives.
"You'll hear my story," she said, "and you'll feel better that somebody sees what you're going through."
Never a voice lesson
Even though Parker shares writing credits with guitarist Lamoine (à la Lennon-McCartney), he said she contributes most of the ideas, with him typically finishing a line or adding a musical hook.
The eclecticism is "coming out of her brain," he explained. "We're listening to more weird stuff," such as Rosemary Clooney, Dave Matthews Band and Prince's "Starfish and Coffee."
Their partnership has evolved during the pandemic with livestreamed duo gigs that include all-request shows. "We do a version of 'Sweet Child o' Mine' with a foot-stomping funk rhythm guitar and slide guitar," Lamoine said. "We turn it into a blues. No one listens to the lyrics of Guns N' Roses. That's the blues."
These shows have helped Parker become "more in tune with what she's doing," Lamoine said. "She's reaching deeper inside of herself."
Said Parker: "It's easy to get emotional for me. I'm such an empathetic person."
Although she's never had a voice lesson, she accepts that her voice is a gift from God.
"The two things that are most important right now are raising my kids and creating. I can't do life without both of those things," she said.
"I think I have a higher purpose in what I do with music. I think I'm a healer. I've done so much over the past year in terms of figuring out who I am and my strengths and my brand. We came up with a tagline: A voice for the soul."
Cher to his Sonny
A classically trained pianist with a music education degree from University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Parker taught music in her home state of Wisconsin. After moving to the Twin Cities in 2001 and continuing to teach school, she schooled herself in the music of blues legend Muddy Waters.
In 2015, she won a blues contest even though she didn't even have a band. Soon thereafter, accompanied by veteran Lamoine and others, she became a regular at the Dakota and Crooners, among other places. In addition to playing originals and covers, Parker also presents a popular tribute show to Patsy Cline, the 1950s-'60s country-pop star.
Even though the formidably tall Parker and noticeably shorter Lamoine are 20-some years apart in age, he plays Sonny to her Cher, observes Minneapolis producer Kevin Bowe, who helmed "Out of the Dark."
During the pandemic, the musical partners moved to Wisconsin — Lamoine to Osceola, where he practices law, and Parker to St. Croix Falls, where she home-schools her children, ages 13 and 10, while her husband commutes to his job as VP of a Twin Cities manufacturing company.
At home, Parker absorbs an array of music.
"I listen to old stuff. Sirius XM's Soul Town, Sam Cooke, Steely Dan. I'm still stuck in '60s and '70s. I don't listen to much new unless it's Brandi Carlile. I listen to old blues. In the background, we listen to classical when [her kids] are doing homework."
Despite her taste for the blues, the strong-willed Parker insisted to Bowe that she didn't want to make a blues album. "I am a songwriter," the producer recalled her saying.
She and Lamoine wrote the songs and Bowe "was able to put the sugar on top of them, make them come to life," Parker said, adding a harmonica player here, a horn section there.
After 10 tunes had been recorded, Parker played Bowe a piano version of "Out of the Dark."
"I was like, 'Wow,' " he recalled. "Not only is this a perfect song, but it's a perfect song for right now."
It starts with a deep, fragile voice and builds to a soaring, liberating scream.
Forgive yourself for your past, when you were too weak to stand.
Let go of the anger, 'cause there's a bigger plan.
You're no longer beholden to what once held you down.
And you don't have to be afraid anymore
'Cause the veil has been lifted, your eyes can now see.
Take all you've been gifted
Go be who you were meant to be.
Coming out of the dark.
Said Parker: " 'Out of the Dark' is definitely about me."
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719
Joyann Parker CD release concerts
7 p.m. Sat. livestream, $15, dakotacooks.com
7 p.m. Feb. 19, Crooners, $30-$35 in person, $20 livestream, croonersmn.com