Few followers of electronic music need reminding that Detroit spawned a techno monster in the 1980s. But house music was also blowing up in the city at that time, and could be heard at backyard parties on the west side, on the lawns of Belle Isle Park along the Detroit River, and in clubs where disco ruled in the decade before.
For nearly two full generations, Detroit techno and house have remained largely compatible cousins, though the scenes have developed their own distinct boundaries, too. Crossover parties were more common in the early years; less so today, though events headlined by techno legends Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May—both of whom drew inspiration from Chicago and New York dance culture—include plenty of house tracks and edits.
Many of the city's house producers and DJs that emerged in the latter half of the '80s and early '90s have proved remarkably durable. Artists like Norm Talley, Delano Smith, Rick Wade, Rick Wilhite, and Chez Damier continue to DJ around the globe. They were later joined by guys like Mike Huckaby, Mike "Agent X" Clark, Kenny Dixon (a.k.a. Moodymann), Theo Parrish, and Omar-S, all of whom can command any dancefloor in the world.
However, one artist who might top them all in terms of durability and command of his craft is Terrence Parker, who's been producing, remixing, and DJing since the late '80s. After he briefly "retired" in the early '00s, Parker came back more spiritual and devoted to the sub-genre branded gospel or inspirational house. Under his own name, and via side projects including Seven Grand Housing Authority, Plastic Soul Junkies, and Telephone—named for the trademark rotary phone headset he uses in lieu of headphones while DJing—Parker has been responsible for well over 100 releases on a variety of Detroit and European labels over his long career.
His new LP, Life on the Back 9, finds him back home in the Motor City, this time on Carl Craig's wide-ranging Planet E imprint. The first track sets the mostly upbeat, joyous mood of the album perfectly. "Finally (Baby Be Mine)" has a classic, keyboard-driven cadence overlayed with soaring synths and a sexy, soulful female vocal sample. Parker might be a God-fearing dude, but this sizzling cut proves that he's a ladies' man when it comes to producing and playing music. "Nightlight" follows, riding atop rhythms made from organ, electric piano, and thumping bass drums.
It seems oddly contradictory that Parker reaches back to his more secular disco roots for the next three songs, all of which come with sacred underpinnings (and song titles). "Saved Forever," "God He Is," and "Spiritual Warfare" explore an interplay between spirit and flesh, but ultimately only add to the depth of his art. "The Friend I Lost" is pure melancholy lament, a jazzy, midtempo track that cries out for something that once was; "Hiding in Your Love" picks up the pace, though the mood is still blue until a bass-and-drums outro reminds us what a tough guy Parker can be.
The joy returns on "My Virtuous Woman," which bounces along with the help of chugging synths, some melodic keyboard runs, and a gritty bassline that keeps things properly grounded. "Open Up Your Spirit" and "Pentecost" return to religious themes. The first track achieves classic house high elevation, while the second is darker, unconventional, and harder to pin down in terms of style. Maybe the fact that this LP is on Planet E suggests a Carl Craig influence here, mainly because of the five-plus-minute electro-funk jamming that extends from the middle to the end of the track.
The album's final cut, "The Back 9," comes back to apparent happier times, perhaps because—as Parker points out in the notes to this release—it is dedicated to his father who helped him when he was going through difficult times. The "back 9" is a reference to how his father saw the game of golf: the first nine holes might be the worst you've ever played; but persevere, his father said, and the next nine holes will be where the game is won. A golf metaphor might seem strange coming from a spiritual but still jackin' Detroit house icon, but nothing is truly out of place when it comes to Terrence Parker and his rousing new album, where plenty of inspiration can be found in the music itself.