Lemon Recordings' Graham Parker rarities compilation The Official Art Vandelay Tapes is a legitimized version of a Parker bootleg that had circulated previously. The unofficial Art Vandelay Tapes (named for a character on Parker's favorite TV series, Seinfeld) gathered together stray tracks, most of which had been released previously only as B-side singles or on different variations of Parker albums between 1977 and 1999. For example, "Women in Charge" (1980), "Too Much Time to Think" (1985), and "That Thing Is Rockin'" (1990) were all non-LP B-sides, while "Habit Worth Forming" (1982) had appeared only on the American cassette version of Another Grey Area at a time when record companies were putting bonus tracks on cassettes to encourage sales of the medium. Parker emerged virtually fully formed in 1976, and his style -- energetic folk-rock arrangements, witty, caustic lyrics, and a raspy, rhythmic vocal delivery -- has varied only slightly over the years. Also, he has maintained an unusual degree of consistency. So, even though the material ranges across 22 years, it hangs together well. "Habit Worth Forming" may be unfamiliar to all but '80s cassette fans in the U.S., but when Parker sings a verse like "Some people get all the breaks/Some people just get broken down/Either way, no second takes/You hit or you miss and count the mistakes," as a shuffle beat rocks away and an electric guitar solos in a catchy countermelody, this could be any of his many excellent albums playing. There are, however, a few stylistic variations, such the country arrangement of the Burning Questions outtake "Class Act," and there are several intriguing covers, among them a slowed-down version of the Who's "Substitute," an "unplugged" version of the Smithereens' "Behind the Wall of Sleep," with the Smithereens themselves as the backup band, and Herman's Hermits' "I'm into Something Good." Taken together, all this makes for an hour's worth of terrific Graham Parker music previously consigned to out of print discs and tapes. As Parker himself notes of the unknown bootlegger who assembled a collection that finally achieved legality, "Somebody knew what they were doing when they compiled this album."
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
feat: The Smithereens