In Caryl Mack Parker’s home studio in Nashville, Tennessee, there are decades of photographs documenting a rich musical journey around the world. The photos are warm, tender and funny. Some are bittersweet.
The images tell the story of a young girl in Abilene, Texas, who wanted to sing like Linda Ronstadt and play the piano like Carole King. When The Carpenters’ “Close to You” became a radio hit, Caryl was hooked: “Karen’s voice reached deep inside, rolled around and connected to something in my soul. That connection to me is the magic, the power of music.”
The bar bands and studio experiences of her college years in Texas were followed by wanderlust that led her and husband Scott to Portland, Oregon’s vibrant indie music scene. Through hundreds of club dates, studio sessions, and as lead singer in the popular Caryl Mack Band, she found her voice as a songwriter for Warner Chappell Music, and her first regional hits on Adult Alternative (AAA) radio.
But her Southern roots ran deep, and the road inevitably led to Nashville in the mid 90’s. Within 2 years, her first major record and publishing deals were signed. Thanks to whirlwind touring and national press features, her music was added nationally on hundreds of radio stations and television networks, including top videos on CMT and GAC.
The new millennium saw a rapid change in the music business, creating a hard season for many artists, labels and publishers alike. When her label, Magnatone Records, also announced it was being shuttered, Caryl suddenly found herself at a crossroads. While taking time out to reflect and regroup, Caryl decided to step back from the demands of her career to focus on their growing family.
While raising their kids in Nashville, Caryl continued to record for many artists, writers and ad clients. She mentored up-and-coming musicians and curated charity events. Together with Scott, whose career was also being reborn as a successful producer/writer and publisher, she continued appearing at songwriter festivals, writer showcases, studio sessions and churches, including legendary venues like the Ryman Auditorium and Bluebird Café.
They also found themselves performing alongside many of their musical heroes who were having vibrant second careers, carving out niches in the digital age, and liberating themselves from the traditional definitions of success. Notions of arbitrary chart positions and fame were being replaced by simple spiritual fulfillments, bourn of artistic freedom, collaboration, and authenticity.
Energized by this new perspective, the Parkers’ own songs and stories started to flow again. They began collaborating on a project with Nashville’s elite musicians, songwriters, former band-mates, and freshly discovered talent. Caryl Mack and the Rancho Divine was born.
More than a band name, Rancho Divine represents that sacred community of family, friends and co-creators surrounding her now. It’s a transcendent place filled with life, love, joy, and imagination. “It’s about community—making music you love with people you love. Musicians know that there is a shared experience that happens when they are playing music together. It feeds the soul.”
This collaboration has resulted in a long-awaited album, Mercy Road, a collection of masterfully crafted songs that showcases Caryl’s warmth, wisdom and depth. And like those photographs hanging in her studio, these songs convey the deeper revelations of the journey life can take you on, no matter your circumstance, your age, or your background. As Karen Carpenter’s did for her, she wants her voice to be an invitation to take a deep breath, slow down, and listen. “Making that kind of connection—singer to listener—is a gift. It’s sacred. It can bring relief and calm, joy and laughter, introspection and hope, or comfort and tears. It’s spiritual. It’s why I do this.”