While he had a switchblade voice and a lyrical style whose bitterness rivaled that of Elvis Costello or his more abrasive contemporaries, Graham Parker was never really a punk rocker, or even a new wave guy -- like his buddies Nick Lowe and Brinsley Schwarz, Parker was at heart an unreconstructed pub rock man, and like his fellow pub rockers, he had a soft spot for country-rock in the manner of the Band, even if he didn't air that enthusiasm very often. (Just cue up "Between You and Me" or "Back to Schooldays" for proof.) So it should be no great surprise that Parker has recorded a twang-friendly roots rock album for Chicago's "insurgent country" label Bloodshot; what might surprise a few is that it's a strong, intelligent, and compelling piece of work that shows Parker mellowing just a bit with age, but still maintaining the sharp eye that's always been the hallmark of his songwriting. Parker's tales of a second-rate comedian on the road ("Anything for a Laugh") and an Englishman adjusting to life in the States ("Nation of Shopkeepers") are first-class character studies that show compassion for their protagonists without disguising their failings, "Things I've Never Said" and "The Rest Is History" prove he can write well about a semifunctional relationship when he's of a mind, and "Queen of Compromise" and "Fairground" reveal Parker's still in touch with his snarky side, and still knows how to use it well. As for the music, Parker doesn't bend over backward to make these tunes sound "country," and that suits both him and the songs just fine -- the occasional washes of lap steel and blues-flavored shuffle give these songs a well-applied rootsy touch without condescending to a genre that (by his own admission) he doesn't know remarkably well. In an accompanying essay, Parker says the Rolling Stones "have showed me that country music is just the blues," and Your Country suggests Parker and his partners have learned well from that lesson -- like the best blues and the best country, this is an album of simple but well-crafted songs about real people's lives, full of home truth and some well-applied piss and vinegar. Added value items: a duet with Lucinda Williams on "Cruel Lips," and a snappy new version of "Crawling From the Wreckage."
Your Country Review
by Mark Deming