It’s been a time of intense, worldwide change over the past few years… or maybe it all depends on scale. Zooming out to a geological timeline, maybe not much has changed at all. On his sixth album Wilderness Within You, acclaimed singer/songwriter Parker Millsap explores this flux between the here and now and the big BIG picture, while reckoning with questions about humanity’s place on this planet. The result is a study in contrasts: the personal versus the cosmic, sparse acoustic compositions sitting next to lush psychedelic improvisations. Above all, Wilderness Within You is an understanding of darkness while expressing an abundance of gratitude for life itself.
Born and raised in Purcell, Okla., a tiny town with a huge sky, Millsap learned early on how to express gratitude through song while playing gospel in the church band. Long-time fans will recognize the album’s foundations – acoustic instrumentation and solid songwriting centered around Millsap’s show-stopping voice. They’ll also spot the evolution towards more experimentation and sampling from other musical cultures. Beyond the opening “Greetings and Thanks,” which puts to music “The Thanksgiving Address” of the indigenous peoples of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy — all proceeds from the song will be donated to the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force — the album continues on with a series of auditory landscapes and thoughtful insights including “Running on Time,” which contrasts a sweet message about patience with distorted electronic harmonies. The second half of Wilderness turns darker and moodier with the industrial, buzz-saw “Half a World Away,” which finds Millsap questioning “who murders for my meat? who gets it here from there?” At the other end of the sonic spectrum is the beautiful, roots-y title track, a duet with the legendary Gillian Welch. The track illustrates Millsap’s understanding of nature as something that humans are not separate from - that life is stunningly beautiful most of the time, but does contain streaks of darkness that are just as natural: “There’s a field that’s full of violets, there’s a bruise that’s purple brown / There’s a little bit of violence, and a lot of fertile ground.”
In a broader sense, Wilderness Within You poses many weighty questions without easy answers. While Millsap can feel deeply discouraged by the way things are going wrong in the world, especially with the climate crisis, Wilderness Within You is threaded with hope and thankfulness for all we do have. This idea is beautifully etched on “Magic,” an anthem about the power of paying attention – a torch song perfect for listeners to join in and belt along to.
“I really do want people to feel the magic,” Millsap said, echoing lyrics from the song. “It’s out there.”