Graham Parker

Live! Alone in America

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There's a wonderful, solitary beauty to the performance captured on this CD, from Philadelphia's Theatre of Living Arts in October of 1988. True, Parker doesn't do any radical re-tooling of any of his repertory in the manner of, say, Bob Dylan. But he does give us a lot of that repertory, going back more than a decade to Howlin' Wind, and into some unexpected corners of his work; fans may quibble about the choices, but taken on its own terms, what's here is delightful. The combination of his voice and a solo acoustic guitar, plus a relaxed venue and an obviously appreciative crowd, seem to have yielded a perfect vibe for the duration of the show. What's more, stripping Parker's songs to their basics is a good idea, lending them a folk-like spontaneity and intimacy that gives the words more meaning and the music more of a pronounced (yet still understated) beauty. Even "Three Martini Lunch" achieves a quiet, rootsy splendor and honesty. And Parker's voice rises to the occasion, with an elegant expressiveness that's much more (if not impossible) difficult to achieve in an amplified setting. Strangely enough, "Back in Time," the one song from Mona Lisa's Sister, his most recent studio album at the time, sounds slick and commercial next to the older repertory, though it's still fine listening, and might have made a great single in this form. And then there are the audience participation, clap-along numbers, such as "Hotel Chambermaid" and "Don't Let It Bring You Down," which can make the listener wish there'd been a video account of this show as well; even non-fans can float away on the ebullience of moments like these. And Parker closes the show with an artistically very risky move: white artists have been covering Sam Cooke songs for decades (Parker did it with "Cupid" on Mona Lisa's Sister); but "A Change Is Gonna Come" isn't just any Sam Cooke, or any song, trading as it does in images of racism, grief, and longing. Parker does pull it off, just. Southside Johnny is still the white artist best-suited to do that song, if anyone is, but Parker's restrained playing and raw emoting get him by, to a satisfying finale.

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