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Pourin’ It All Out

A Guide To Graham Parker

Sharpness of tongue and cleverness of lyric have always been Graham Parker’s calling card, dating back to his days as a pub rocker embraced by the New Wave scene. (He once excoriated his first label via the withering “Mercury Poisoning.”) And while the persona of angry young man was soon appropriated by Elvis Costello, Parker has continued releasing consistently solid material over the years that has nonetheless been embraced by a fervent, mostly American cult audience. The following are not his best albums as much as ones he handpicked as being recordings he feels stand out.

Howlin’ Wind (Mercury) – Produced by Nick Lowe, Graham Parker’s 1976 outing is arguably one of music’s greatest debut efforts. With The Rumour firing on all cylinders, Parker draws from the same well as Van Morrison and The Band all infused with a pub rock swagger. From the opening notes of the horn-soaked “White Honey,” the singer-songwriter sneered his way through the rockabilly-influenced “Back to Schooldays” and acquitted himself confidently on the Stonesy swagger of “Soul Shoes.” He effectively created the template for what Elvis Costello would be doing a year later with My Aim is True. And as far as Parker is concerned, “No act was doing anything like that and it was really pointing to a future that was coming down the line a year or so later.”

Squeezing Out Sparks (Arista) – Following his acrimonious departure from his prior label, Parker re-emerged in 1979 with his Jack Nitzsche-produced Arista Records debut. Considered by many to be his best outing, Sparks is packed with plenty of nuggets ranging from New Wave gems like “Discovering Japan” and “Local Girls” to the hipster bashing “Saturday Night is Dead” and the poignant anti-abortion statement “You Can’t Be Too Strong.” According to its creator, this collection of songs is effective because “one of the greatest lessons that I learned from Jack Nitzsche was to make sure the band listens to the song. Don’t just let them play.”

Struck By Lightning (RCA) – Domesticity is the driving force behind this 1991 album. Not only does Parker share his perspective as a proud pop via the country-like “The Kid With the Butterfly Net” and a romantic spouse on the gorgeous ballad “Wrapping Paper,” but that of an aging rocker on “A Brand New Book” where he admits, “The words came out/Not ‘Twist and Shout’/’Cause that’s not what a grown man writes about.” Helping out with the heavy lifting are John Sebastian, Garth Hudson of The Band and Cajun fiddler Jay Ungar, best known for his contributions to the Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War.

Deep Cut To Nowhere (Razor & Tie) – After a five-year hiatus, Parker’s first album since 1996’s Acid Bubblegum found him emerging with a renewed sense of purpose. Roaring out of the gate, he goes from humorously embracing aging (the harmonica-kissed “Socks ‘N’ Sandals”) to railing against snobs (the jangly earworm “High Horse”). His best diatribe is leveled against organized religion (“Syphilis & Religion”) and contains one of his more unforgettable lines, “Syphilis and religion is what we’re handing out/Two things you could probably do without.”

Don’t Tell Columbus (Bloodshot) – Parker’s third outing on Chicago-based insurgent country imprint Bloodshot Records arrived in 2007 and he wasted no time skewering a number of topics. In this go-round, it was George Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina (the poppy shuffle “Stick to the Plan”) and the incessant tabloid-ready exploits of UK celebrities that could easily translate to famous folk who are TMZ regulars on this side of the pond (a Petty-flavored “England’s Latest Clown.”)