Various Artists

Piss & Vinegar: The Songs of Graham Parker

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There is often a suspicion when it comes to tribute albums that the intention is not so much to pay tribute as it is to gain greater exposure for the artists paying tribute. Annotator "Jumpin' JB" (presumably Jerry Balderson) cheerfully admits as much about New Jersey independent label Buy or Die's Piss & Vinegar: The Songs of Graham Parker, writing, "The original aim of this venture was to use the songs of the songwriter (G.P.) to showcase to the world the talents of our musicians." That said, the performers do manage to do well by Parker for the most part. Unusual for this sort of project, it tends to be the ones who hew closer to the original who do better, however. For example, Bill Kelly & the House of Cards' "Pourin' It All Out" and the Health & Happiness Show's "Stupefaction," which largely replicate Parker's arrangements, are among the better interpretations early on. Contrarily, Kings in Disguise do a good version of "The Kid with the Butterfly Net" by turning it into more of a folk-pop tune, complete with Tim Carbone's strong vocal and violin playing. When Stephanie Sayers, something of a vocal mix of Janis Ian and Sandy Denny, sings "Watch the Moon Come Down," it highlights the relative lack of female performers; this is the first lead vocal by a woman, ten songs into the disc. Happily, they are more frequent in the second half, and "You Can't Be Too Strong," Parker's exploration of the issue of abortion, particularly benefits from the singers in 22 Brides. Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens and Jon Tiven of the Mekons make their presence felt in the later tracks as performers and producers, and they, again, return the sound of the record to Parker's own. Overall, the album is a mixed bag, with some good covers that expose lesser-known Parker songs or give different nuances to familiar ones, though some of the performers seem to be going through the motions to get their own exposure.

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