Parker Smith – Short Street – out 6/7/24

Atlanta singer/songwriter and guitarist Parker Smith’s breezy third studio album Short Street (out June 7) was made with sensitivity, humor and an innate knack for creating art from life. Its easy-flowing melodies and lilting pedal steel infuse some rural Americana without going full-on country. Smith’s sweet, zephyr-like sound and welcoming everyman vocals continue from the album’s opening lightly strummed guitars, through its eight brisk, yet never blustery, tunes.


He’s the best friend everybody wants, telling stories with the cozy confidentiality of someone you love spending time with—hanging out with a few bottles of wine while hearing their generally optimistic opinions on growing up, chasing true love, absorbing the death of a dog, and even praising terrific mothers-in-law. We all need a Parker Smith in our lives.


Initially meant as an acoustic venture named after his tune “Friend Ships,” the collection gradually took a different vibe. As it progressed, Smith re-worked his vocals and shifted towards the more Atlanta-centric title, Short Street. This album, including the title track, references neighborhoods in his city. His previous two releases, Garden Hills and Underground, are also named after Atlanta areas.


The album opens with “Air Stream,” referencing the iconic mobile home. It reflects Smith’s storytelling motif and Poco-like lilt. On it, he recounts a camping trip where the chilly temperatures forced his family to the warmth of the titular vehicle. The song takes a longer, more universal lens to that situation as he sings, “The smile on each other’s face / When they hold a warm embrace / At the end of a long day / Dog at their feet.” The tropical rhythm and pedal steel exude a comfy homespun texture that you can visualize as Smith emotes his words with the casual cadence of John Prine, letting them float through the laconic vibe.


The heartland rock “Mothers” turns every outdated mother-in-law joke and stereotype on its head. This tribute to Smith’s mother-in-law is also an accolade to other moms who are frequently criticized by songwriters. “She might not be my mother / But she’s a mother to me,” he sings before complimenting his wife with the sentimental, “You’ve got your mother’s eyes and that’s alright with me.” It should be a perennial Mother’s Day favorite with its buoyant folk-rock vibe and Tom Petty-esque down-to-Earth relatability.


“Seeing my wife become a mother this year has given me greater insight into the connection between a mother and their child,” says Smith. “It’s crazy man. I have a six-month-old now. Breastfeeding and providing for her, it’s just a totally different type of bond between my wife and our baby. We’ve been together for eight years, and now we get to grow into this together. It’s nice to see this new side of her, you know?”


The gorgeous ballad “Anna Lee” is a filigree of acoustic and electric guitar, groovy keys and Smith’s familial vocal delivery. This love song to his wife describes the difficulties and triumphs of working through life’s twists with a partner you’re in sync with. “This journey is my own, but I don’t have to walk alone / We can walk it side by side / It’s on your shoulders I’ll get by,” he sings with a solemn yet knowing half-smile, implying ultimately everything will work out. The dreamy, loungy electric guitar solo dancing among the simplified drums and super-chill organ is a particular treat.


“It’s about being married and going through your own shit,” says Smith. “We all have our own journeys and difficulties. We need to be able to lean on each other in tough times.”


“Waves” embraces the glorious triumph of being able to let go of material things. It has a Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” vibe. Its gentle verses, bombastic choruses and a series of transcendent, jangly guitar solos help us embrace ego death and take stock of what’s important.


“I lost my wedding ring in the ocean during a bachelor party in Mexico,” says Smith. “A few months later, my wife lost her wedding ring in the ocean. Both rings were family heirlooms, belonging to each of Smith’s parents. We took it as a sign that we weren’t meant to have those. Material things come and go, but you want to hold onto what’s really important.”


“Oscar” is a sweet, laid-back, loping offering as Smith looks back on losing his beloved, longtime dog companion. Its lyrics could easily be applied universally to anyone you’ve lost. It’s a song about giving thanks to those who’ve made an impact on your life and are no longer with us.


The title track “Short Street” reflects on the annual Chomp and Stomp festival in Atlanta’s famous Cabbagetown neighborhood—equal parts chili cook-off, beer bash and Bluegrass fest. It’s a zydeco-adjacent honky-tonk party song about good times with good people. It’s a love letter to his hometown, while recognizing that it isn’t perfect. “Friend Ships” is a song that reminisces about his hooligan friends growing up (shoplifting, drugs in a mailbox, all night drives to meet a girl), and how he turned out alright through all the mayhem.


Album closer “Surround Sound” is an intimate, acoustic ode to taking time to appreciate the world around you. His relaxed vocals and songwriting pedigree land in the realm of Paul Simon and Mark Knopfler, epitomizing Smith’s ability to capture small moments that can be extrapolated to larger ones. He takes the ordinary (listening to the school bus, the garbage truck, the train tracks, the children laugh), and makes it extraordinary, like a subdued whisper of wisdom.


Smith first picked up a guitar at age twelve after experiencing an Allman Brothers Band show at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, but didn’t get serious about practicing until 15. Smith then took music business courses and Bruce Hornsby’s songwriting program at the University of Miami, followed by moving to Austin and attaining a Masters of Education degree, before returning to Atlanta to start a music school.


Smith is a Renaissance man of sorts. Not only is he an acclaimed singer/songwriter and guitarist, but a successful entrepreneur as well. He started Guitar Shed in 2015 with four pupils. It has grown into a major business boasting 30 instructors and over 400 students learning a variety of instruments, not just guitar. He claims to be a “bad employee” but an entrepreneur at heart and loves that his job has never felt like work.


That gracious, affable sentiment translates to his songwriting and the dedicated supporting musicians he surrounds himself with. Most, like mixer/producer/drummer Colin Agnew, keyboardist Christopher Case, bassist Trygve Myers (who’s work on “Mothers” and “Oscar” is exceptional), and especially pedal steel/six-string wizard John Kingsley whose presence helps set the deliberate mood, contributed to Smith’s earlier work.


Smith’s debut, Garden Hills, was followed by Underground in 2021. That year also saw a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Bird Song,” (recorded for a Dead tribute project), then 2023’s Live Bandwith, Vol. 1, a concert recording with his group affectionately, and humorously, called The Bandwith (note the intentional lack of a second “d” in the spelling).


Short Street is his most illuminating, engaging and personal statement yet. The sinuous melodies and instrumentation coalesce around his deep, affecting vocals and insightfully personal lyrics. His wry humor mingles with profound honesty as he crafts narratives of the world around him. It’s an album of poignant yet cheerfully light songs that shimmer with the touch of a craftsman; one creating a treatise on traversing the victories and challenges that come with living a full life.