Tuesday , September 22 2020
GP goes alt country (sort of). . .

Graham Parker, Your Country

If you’d told me back in the days of Squeezing Out Sparks, when Graham Parker was waxing splenetic about small-town provincialism and passionless celebrity culture, that the snarling pubrocker would one day be performing a Jerry Garcia song, I’d have probably done a spit take with a mouthful of Black Label. The Parkerilla doing a lopin’ cover of “Sugaree”? Yeah, and Elvis Costello was gonna duet with Daryl Hall. . .
So, here it is three years after his last store-sold release, 2001’s Deep Cut to Nowhere, and ol’ GP has cut a country-rock album for the Chicago-based alt label Bloodshot Records. Instead of assaying his nasally whiteboy r-&-b, our hero is bringing out the lap steel guitars and dueting with Lucinda Williams. The lyrics may still be as snarly as ever (instead of railing against local girls, now the target’s a zaftig trailer babe), but the wind don’t howl as loudly as it used to.
That doesn’t keep Your Country (Bloodshot) from being a great album, though – perhaps his most solid release since The Real Macaw. The flashes of proto-Dylanesque verbosity that marred releases like Struck by Lightening and Nowhere has been tamped down in favor of sharp description, so that when our man returns to the “Fairground,” you’re less concerned about what’s-it-all-mean metaphor (as in the earlier “They Murdered the Clown”) than with the song’s telling snapshots of carny workers. The musicianship – primarily handled by a pubrock-solid trio that includes Parker on guitars & harmonica, Tom Freund on base & keyboards and Don Heffington on drums & percussion – may lack the fire of GP’s early work with the Rumour, but it’s got plenty of muscle, especially on the snapping “Tornado Alley” and his closer-to-Dave-Edmunds remake of “Crawling from the Wreckage.”
As a singer/songwriter, Parker has always been an under-known name in this country, but the fact doesn’t seem to piss him off as much as it used to. “I’m not that bad; I’m not that great,” he sings in the amiable opener, “Anything for A Laugh,” and if this seems affectedly disingenuous, it’s clear Parker knows his coterie of fans would loudly disagree with that sentiment. This emigre from a “Nation of Shopkeepers” has grown adept at cataloguing American life with sharp hooks and a teasingly ambiguous outsider’s eye.
And that cover of “Sugaree”? It highlights the paranoia lurking in Robert Hunter’s lyrics (something hippie bashers and anti-Deadheads have always missed) and sounds pretty damn good besides. Keep on truckin’, Graham, and I’ll keep listenin’. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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