Graham Parker CD review by Nick Blakey
Jun 14, 2007, 05:07
GRAHAM PARKER Don't Tell Columbus CD
Dear Mr. Parker-
Let me open this by stating that I find you to be like a good bottle of red wine that deserves one's time and patience, as well as a comfortable chair and the scope of which to ingest the bottle slowly and fully. However, your latest release Don't Tell Columbus left me feeling as though I had been drinking 1986 Leoville-Barton out of a jam jar. Consequently, I have some questions in light of this that I'd like to discuss with you here.
My first question is, of course, where are The Figgs? I do realize you've already recorded with them before, both in the studio (Songs of No Consequence) and live (103 Degrees In June), but hey man, you had a good thing going there, and I figured, you know, why stop now? I realize that we do get 1/3rd of The Figgs (Mike Gent) on â€¦Colombus, but dude, uh, he's a guitar player and you've got him on drums (like, what, Pete Hayes wasn't available?) Right, I can dig it, but isn't that a little like bringing Bob Andrews back into the fold and sticking him on trumpet? And where the fuck is Brett Rosenberg, who played such hot shit lead behind you sitting in with The Figgs on the 2005 tour? I mean, hell, I know you're going for more introspection and intimacy here, Mr. Parker, but, well, even when one doesn't get what you're going on about or that your cryptic words require pencil and paper as well as ears and brains at least The Rumour and The Figgs keep things rockin'. Energy and a crack band behind you sir always made your point succinct and resoundingly clear, even when it wasn't, plus what's more one could groove to it. Elvis no longer has the Attractions, and the Joe Jackson Band only does reunion shows, so why are you not taking advantage of this incredible asset?
For much of this album, Mr. Parker, you spin neat sounding lines that twist words into riddles that while thoughtful enough make me wonder if you're really saying something at all. For example, at over 8 minutes, "The Other Side Of The Reservoir" is no "Heat In Harlem" (or "Desolation Row" or even, gulp, "Street Hassle") and its endless river dragging makes one wish for the "overblown theatrics" (as a Trouser Press critic once beautifully stated) of your latter tune. On this note, too, at nearly an hour the album is far too long and the production already makes it sound dated. Also, sticking the four best songs at the end of the album ("Somebody Saved Me,” the gorgeous "Hard Side Of The Rain,” "Bullet Of Redemption,” which should be upfront and center, and the lovely "All Being Well") is a bad move, dude, since many a younger and impatient listener will have snapped off the album before even getting thereâ€¦but then again, maybe that's what you're going for.
I am trying to keep the Dylan comparisons at bay but from the opener "I Discovered America,” which is cute and funny, sure—and certainly an interesting progression from your old "Discovering Japan"—but with the wheezing harmonica notwithstanding and such, places you smack dab between John Wesley Harding and New Morning (and "Stick To The Plan" brings it all back home a little even more so, what with its kazoo solo coming off almost as a tribute to Jesse Fuller). I can't ignore the Dylan thing, especially with the odd nasal tone your voice has taken on more than ever before that's almost like Nashville Skyline on helium. Granted, Mr. Parker, you've made some better Bob Dylan records than Bob Dylan has, and "Bullet of Redemption" is a good modern protest song with old fashioned roots a la Woody Guthrie or Phil Ochs—the kind of stuff Dylan can't be bothered to write anymore—but is still totally you. I don't doubt that you are making music that is very aware of this modern world we live in, but again, that's just it.
Oh, while we're on this topic, Mr. Parker, you've got to fire your press officer. I almost never cite the press release when I'm composing a review, but why do you allow them to keep calling you the "angry young man"? It just doesn't make sense since you're not big on nostalgia plus you're now well into your 50s. Also, allowing the statement "it is unhealthy, perhaps even obscene, that someone should be able to come up with an album this good this far into his career" on your press release smacks of a lack of faith and uncertainty on their part, plus John Cale, Sun Ra, Scott Walker, Patti Smith, and Frank Sinatra, among many others, have proven such a statement is utter tripe. It's insulting to you and, more so, it's insulting to us.
Graham (and may I call you Graham?), c'mon, man, I know you can kick some serious ass and have proven you can do so in your 30 plus years in the business. Your humor is still alive and well (crediting those two gals as "white chick singers" is simply amazing), and so is the fire in your soul, so give us the album that I know you can make. Dylan's too busy re-writing his back catalogue and Springsteen's still trying to pass himself off as a man of the people while living in that mansion on the hill, so you're all we've got, Graham.
So please let Gent and Rosenberg let loose a bit on the guitars, allow Pete Donnelly and Hayes provide the backbone, and get up there and tear our playhouse down once again. We need it, and so do you.
Thank you for your time and indulgence.
Your friend, Nick
Don't Tell Columbus