(Inked Sound Records, CD)
It’s common among the young and prodigiously gifted that emotional maturity is slower to develop than natural abilities. With a series of increasingly promising EPs released over the last few years, local songwriter Andrew Parker-Renga has offered listeners an enlightening glimpse into his growth as an artist. The most recent such snapshot, last year’s Issue 3: Emily, though flawed, suggested Parker-Renga was mere steps away from putting it all together and corralling his considerable gifts. And his newest recording, Issue 4: Portraits, is proof positive that he has done just that. It is a finely honed, artistically savvy collection that should propel the singer into the upper echelon of local songwriting talent.
After a short, sweet instrumental intro track, the EP gets under way in earnest with “Portrait.” Light ripples of acoustic guitar swirl gently above deep, ringing tones. Parker-Renga reintroduces himself as an uncommonly blessed vocalist, delivering hushed tones with tactful restraint. Perhaps the most unfortunate failing from the Berklee-trained singer’s earlier work was a tendency to favor ornate vocal bluster when a lighter approach was more prudent. He suffers no such folly here; this performance is measured and cool, though still compelling and emotionally charged.
“Sun” is next. Parker-Renga’s delivery here is fragile but bristles with an undercurrent of angst. APR has an obvious affinity for Omaha-based indie giant Conor Oberst, and his performance bears that out. However, the song rises above mere hero worship in a way the material on Emily did not. Particularly on the song’s achingly pretty chorus — complete with a stunning burst of vocal harmonies, and a fine turn from multi-instrumentalist Zack duPont — it’s clear the songwriter’s compositional chops have evolved in step with his emotional maturation.
“Drawn Dead” is a smoldering charmer. Keyboardist Peter Krag frames APR’s gusty musings with sly organ lines that shimmer against purposefully driving acoustic guitar. Here the singer unchains himself and indulges his elite vocal chops. The effect, especially given the previous calculated restraint, is eminently satisfying.
The EP closes on “Twenty-Five.” In less capable — or perhaps younger — hands, the tune would veer close to gushy, romantic schmaltz. But the elegance and vulnerability of APR’s delivery and simple, straightforward wordplay prevent the tune from devolving into contrived melodrama. It’s a fine end to a command performance from a local songwriter finally in full control of his substantial talents.
Andrew Parker-Renga celebrates Issue 4: Portraits with an EP release party at Parima’s Acoustic Lounge in Burlington on Wednesday, October 20.