As published in The New Mexican
As if he hasn‘t already had problems with people mistaking his name for “Gram Parsons,” Graham Parker — the same Graham Parker, who for 30 years or so has played his own brand of soul music with a punk-rock heart — has made a “country” album.
But before Parker purists get cranky, the new album Your Country isn’t some kind of hokey genre exercise. Unlike some rockers who “go country,” Parker doesn’t sound like he’s auditioning for some Hee-Haw revival.
In other words, this album is closer in sound to Elvis Costello’s King of America than it is to Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue.
(Poor Parker — since the late ‘70s he’s had to endure comparisons with Elvis Costello — both arose from the British pub-rock scene and both used Nick Lowe as a producer in the early days. I suppose he’ll survive this comparison too.)
Your Country has a rockabilly take on “Crawling From the Wreckage,” an old Parker song best known for its version by Dave Edmunds. And most surprisingly, there’s a Grateful Dead cover, “Sugaree.” Robert Hunter’s lyrics sound natural coming from Parker’s mouth: “You thought you was the cool fool/ and never could do no wrong/Had everything sewed up tight/how come you lay awake all night long?”
But more importantly , there are some top-notch new songs here.
“Cruel Lips,” a duet with Lucinda Williams, is a wicked put-down song with a bittersweet melody that could have been written by that other GP.
“Tornado Alley,” a cool country-rocker, has even more brutal lyrics: “But when that twister rolled through Kentucky/And ripped up our trailer park/I saw your big butt flyin’ through the window/And the hound dogs started to bark.”
“Fairground” is full of acidic character sketches of carnies: “See that girl in the tattered dress/who runs the Octopus ride/She’s no more than fourteen/and already one inside/and every tattoo that’s tattooed/upon her hide/tells the story of her life/a life of pain and pride.”
My personal favorite is “Things I Never Said” is an emotional love ballad with a deceptively simple melody and a sweet steel by Ben Peeler. Though the title suggests regrets over a lost love, the situation is more complex and interesting. It’s about feeling lost and empty with a current lover.
Country or not, Your Country is full of that old Graham Parker spark.
*Jon Rauhouse’s Steel Guitar Rodeo. This is a good-time outing by one of Bloodshot Records' most dependable sidemen, steel guitar stud Rauhouse.
Here the Arizonan — who also picks a little banjo and guitar — teams up with a small army of musicians, including members of the Giant Sand/Calexico axis.
The most memorable tunes here are sung by Bloodshot’s bevy of bitchen babes: Kelly Hogan (who sings a sultry take on James Brown’s “Prisoner of Love” and a torch tune called “Smoke Rings”); Neko Case (who soars on a sweet but spooky “River of No Return,” a western movie theme previously recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford, The Sons of the Pioneers and, I’m not kidding, Marilyn Monroe, who starred in the 1954 film); and Mekons songbird Sally Timms, who does a sweet, sexy “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover,” a popular World War II song from England.
There’s some jaunty instrumentals here too, my favorite being the steel guitar take on the “Perry Mason Theme,” one of history’s greatest “crime-jazz” songs of all-time — written by Santa Fe resident Fred Steiner.
*9 Slices of My Midlife Crisis by Uncle Dave & The Waco Brothers. At ease, Waco Brothers fans. It’s been a couple of years since the last real Wacos album, New Deal and this doesn’t really count as a follow-up. Like Jon Langford’s All the Fame of Lofty Deeds and Dean Schlabowske’s recent side project, Dollar Store, this is something of a teaser.
Here the Wacos back up an old pal, New York songwriter Dave Herndon. Missing is the crazed country-style anarchy the Wacos are known for, not to mention Langford’s — and Schlabowske’s — songwriting.
But here’s some worthy tunes here, such as the slow, sweet “West Side Wind” (featuring some weeping steel from Mark Durante) and the rocking “I Love You Baby (And I Hate Myself)”
But my favorites are a pair of songs about the “Future Mrs. Dave.” In the song of that title, this unknown woman is Uncle Dave’s ideal, who’s “always looking’ good no matter what she wears” and stands by her Dave even when he’s drunk or unemployed or sulking or raving.
Then the last song “F.M.D.R.I.P.” starts out with the Wacos singing in a Druid/jungle chant “Future Mrs. Dave, Future Mrs. Dave, Future Mrs. Dave is dead …” Turns out that Uncle Dave has come to the sad realization that Future Mrs. Dave “existed only in my lonely head,” so he kills her off, metaphorically speaking.
*Dollar Store. Jon Langford is truly the high priest of The Waco Brothers, but Dean Schlabowske’s contributions shouldn’t be overlooked. With his hoarse Wisconsin drawl, he’s been out on some of the band’s best songs, including “Out There A Ways,” “Red Brick Wall,” and the anti-Bush tune from New Deal “The Lie.”
This album doesn‘t have any songs quite as memorable, but it’s a good solid album. The band includes Waco bassist Alan Doughty, and, on most tracks, Jon Rauhouse on steel and sometimes Hawaiian guitar and banjo.
“Beyond Our Means“ is a sad song about self-loathing. “Amazing Disgrace” (which features Dave Alvin on lead guitar) is a slow, burning put-down song, while “Little Autocrat” is a snarling Neil Young rocker.
And in the weird covers department, Dollar Store does a Cher song, “Believe.” This one’s becoming an alt country ironic fave. Fellow Bloodshot singer Robbie Fulks has been known to perform it in his live shows.
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