The Alt-Country Rock Sounds of Parole Denied
“Doesn’t it feel good to be back?!,” frontman Jay Rapp bellowed to the crowd as they forged through their hour-plus long set at Grape Street Bar on Friday, March 12. After the socially distanced crowd’s enthusiastic response to Rapp’s question, the night carried on with the band plowing through their down home tunes with grit that straddle the line between country and rock perfectly.
Parole Denied is a five (sometimes four) piece rockabilly southern punk rock band that has kept the same three core members—frontman Rapp, bass guitarist Cyle Ziebarth, and drummer Melissa Santa Maria) since 2016.
Rapp has a way with wry humor that wins over the crowd; there’s an apparent tradition of razzing to the point of almost roasting each other when it comes time for introductions of the bandmates. In the past, when Rapp is introduced, he’s been referred to as the “grandfather” of the group. At tonight’s particular show, when Rapp goes from playing matchmaker for Ziebarth when introducing him as single, to confirming the reasons for Cyle’s lack of attention from the ladies as being his interest in Star Trek/ Star Wars, it is evident that joking, ribbing and banter runs strong with this group. At another point in the set, Rapp talks about a song he wrote coming back from a show in Grants Pass at four in the morning. “I got really sad” he said, and shared that he thought up the song while in the shower, joking “I had to get the stink off from Cyle.”
It was fun to return from a year-long quarantine to see such camaraderie—and that carried from the band to the entire music community in southern Oregon.
At the recent show, a member of the band Doves and Vultures was present, and Rapp made sure to show his support by telling the crowd to go to their next show. “Doves and Vultures will knock your socks off,” he announced.
With songs like “Purgatory,” “Pills,” and “Train Wreck,” Parole Denied are known for singing about the rough times, and doing so with earnest emotional pain. Yet, in spite the titles and content of these woeful tunes, musically many are upbeat toe tappers. Rapp announced one song without a hint of sarcasm as “a happy song,” which turned out to be titled “Blood of Angels.” His sardonic intent was soon apparent, as he sung, “I will live my days in darkness ‘til I die.”
Rapp’s vocal quality is strong, straight-forward and clear as a bell, often contrasted with some of the original, gravelly artists he covers (Social Distortion, The Dead South).
Parole Denied is also notable for their drummer, Melissa Santa Maria, whose drumming chops are truly stand out on tracks like “Battleground” where she does quick triple beat rhythms to truly bring the ass-kicking to an already rocking song. In another one of their songs (although I didn’t catch it at the recent show), “Dogwood,” she brushes the skins steadily so they sound like a stable locomotive breezing through town.
“Any Social Distortion fans in the house?,” Rapp asked at one point, with minimal feedback from the audience; probably indicative of the average age in attendance. Even so, the band went on to two Social Distortion and one Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison” of course!) cover, and ended the night’s set with the surprisingly not-more-hardcore than the others “Rage,” which actually slowed down to a distinct reggae vibe suddenly in the middle before the forceful clop of the drumbeat ordered the song back into full aggression mode again.
Although not necessarily performed at the recent Parole Denied show, the following tracks deserve mention:
“In My Head”: One of my favorite original songs by them, the song has a great hook and is sung with a compelling passion and yearning.
“I Need Never Get Old”: In their cover of Nathaniel Rateliff, Parole Denied hit the mark by punctuating staccato instrumental kicks in between vocal phrasings and subtle devil-in-the-details soft background noises.
Parole Denied plans to release a new album late this spring or early summer; check out their Facebook page for details. They will appear at Grape Street Bar in Medford again on May 14.