EVEN IF YOU'RE not familiar with Michelle Wright or Lee Roy Parnell, the ties that bind them to country music and R&B are unmistakable on their new self-titled albums.
Wright, the daughter of Canadian country music singers, grew up across the border from Detroit and was strongly influenced by Motown. She has a big, lusty voice that's strong enough to make even the slightest songs on her album worth a listen, and when she really has something to sing about -- on "Like a Hurricane" or "As Far as Lonely Goes," for instance -- there's no shortage of power and emotion. Sometimes, in fact, her voice has a defiant edge that brings Melissa Etheridge to mind, but producers Rick Giles and Steve Bogard have made certain that Wright gets to display her talent in moody settings as well.
Parnell, on the other hand, grew up in West Texas, listening to the honky-tonk music his father favored and the Sam Cooke records his mother brought home. These days he's comfortable singing (and writing) in either style, but he's at his best when handling old-fashioned R&B ballads such as "Let's Pretend" or "Down Deep," songs that wouldn't appear out of place on a Bobby Bland album.
Like Wright's recording, though, the focus on Parnell's album is broad and ranges from barroom laments to the catchy honky-tonk track "Oughta Be a Law" and the piano-rocking "Red Hot."
MICHELLE WRIGHT --
"Michelle Wright" (Arista).
LEE ROY PARNELL --
"Lee Roy Parnell" (Arista). Both appearing Sunday at Zed Restaurant.