The easy way would have been to keep within limited musical confines, not challenging the listener too much.
Another easy route would have been to utilize the usual assortment of Nashville session musicians to record the disc as he has done in the past.
But the Texan did no such things on his fourth disc.
The disc starts with his big hit, "A Little B it of You," a mid-tempo song before going into the honky tonk rough-and-ready stylings of "Knock Yourself Out, the soulful "Heart's Desire,"recalling Bonnie Raitt, and current single "When A Woman Loves A Man," a touching ballad with Trisha Yearwood providing backing vocals.
Parnell's trademark slide guitar playing is evident, but he does not abuse his immense talents.
And that ain't all given the inclusion of the barnburner "If the House Is Rockin'" with hot harmonica licks from brother Rob Roy Parnell and the spiritual, emotional "Saved By The Grace Of Your Love."
Parnell said the musical divergence did not concern him one bit. "I don't think I ever thought about it really,"he said. "I think it just kind of happened."
With an eye towards the current state of music making, Parnell indicated he had a different concept in mind than producing a hit or two off an otherwise throwaway disc.
"I wanted to find 10 or 12 songs that would create an album," said. "Take someone through. So many times these days, people make records that got 10 songs, but they're not albums. People in the '70's used to make records. You bought an album of songs. Most of them fit together with a theme. It took you on a trip...I've always tried to do that."
What holds the album together is the artist, according to Parnell. "The common thread was me,"he said. "It didn't concern me. I didn't really hear anything back from either critics or consumers saying, ' wow, it sure seemed like maybe you didn't have anything in mind when you did it.' It really felt cohesive to me. It felt like it all came together. But then again, our live show is like everywhere. We do everything from Merle Haggard stuff to, hell, you never know. We'll put out an Allman Brothers thing or a Rolling Stones thing."
Parnell said his favorite cut was "Saved By the Grace Of Your Love," co-written with Mike Reid. The quiet, tender vocals of Parnell are about a person's love for God in what almost amounts to a confessional. "I think it feels right," he said. "The lyrics are probably the best lyrics I've probably ever had. I just love the feel of that song. I'm just proud of that song as anything I've ever had."
"It wasn't hard to write, but it took a long time to write," he said, adding, "We spent a lot of time philosophizing between lines, and we dug very deep to write that song. It didn't come overnight. There were a lot of overnight hours put into that song. It wasn't hard because it was telling the truth."
"It's really a song about God's love, and it's the perfect love," Parnell said. "This applies to the relationship between a man and a woman, you see. If a man and a woman could somehow connect the way that God intends for that love to be, then it would be the perfect love."
The Neville Brothers will cut the song on their next album.
In yet another musical departure, the closing track is an instrumental, "Cat Walk," co-written with Flaco Jimenez, a huge figure on the Tejano music scene. Instrumentals are a rarity among country albums save for Mark O'Connor, of course. The track was originally recorded for Jimenez' album. "Flaco and I are old friends from Texas," Parnell said. There was no thought about putting it on his own disc until people at his record label, Arista, wondered about doing so.
Now for the musicians. The aptly named Hot Links, Parnell's backing band, provide the musical chops. That's rare on Nashville-made albums where the Paul Franklins and Matt Rollins of the world dominate.
In fact, about the only other artist recording with his back-up band is Dwight Yoakam.
The usual reason given for employing the usual suspects is that they get it right quickly saving time in the studio.
Parnell said he thought using the Hot Links - a name coined by former football great Earl Campbell when he went on Parnell's tour bus once for a visit - made a big difference.
Parnell said Arista, in effect, needed to sign off on the deal. "It took the record company having talks with us. I'm an artist that has always kind of been hands on when it comes to producing my records. Even when we could use studio musicians, I'd select the studio musicians that we would use."
Parnell said he had building to this moment for awhile in his search for just the right band. "My dream was to build a band we could record with and a band we could tour with. I come from kind of an old school of thought. I'm a band guy. I just enjoy being part of a band. I think over the years, I've won Tim's (label head DuBois) confidence, and the proof's in the pudding. "