Cool Brit Gets Blown Around by the Winds of America
Longtime rock music fans may remember England’s whiskey voiced Graham Parker and his group, the Rumour—an ensemble equally adept at Motown-ish rave-ups, reggae, and Dylanesque folk rock — for their 1979 hit album, Squeezing Out Sparks, which yielded the catchy soul-pop single “Local Girls.” Now a Hudson Valley resident, Parker has continued to release albums over the years, either solo or with the Saratoga Springs-based band, The Figgs. But in 2011, he reached out to his former band mates in the Rumour to record together for the first time in 31 years. Coincidentally, one of Parker’s biggest fans, director/writer/producer Judd Apatow just happened to contact the singer-songwriter around the same time. Would he be interested in acting in his new movie, This Is 40, starring Paul Rudd? So after finishing Three Chords Good at Hurley, New York’s Dreamland Studio last summer, Parker and the Rumour reconvened in Hollywood. And now they are kicking off the Three Chords Good/This Is 40 tour back in home territory, barnstorming the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie on November 25.
As it has been for many recently, storms seem to be a leitmotif in Parker’s recent life. But it can also be heard in his recent musical output. One of the best songs on the brilliant new album, “Stop Cryin’ About the Rain,” was inspired by Tropical Storm Irene. Last year, Parker had to flee the tempest via limo to fly to L.A. to appear in This Is 40. “I called the driver and said, ‘Meet me on the other side of the downed tree,’” Parker recalls. While doing press for Three Chords Good in October, he lost phone and Internet service due to Superstorm Sandy, sending him to a café with power and WiFi to conduct business. Two days later, after a radio show in Virginia, the gas shortage stranded him in Paramus, New Jersey. Which was definitely a nadir of sorts.
But the show must go on, and Parker is looking forward to a show more than usual. Playing again with pub-rock veterans the Rumour has been energizing. “We spent most of the time laughing at the weirdness of it all, after a gap of over 30 years,” he says. “Somehow we also recorded thirteen songs in nine days. Still don’t know how.” Parker and the Rumour will also be featured on This Is 40‘s soundtrack album, coming from Capitol Records in December.
Three Chords Good recalls Parker’s seminal 1976 debut LP, Howlin’ Wind, which first launched the singer-songwriter as a punk update on the whole “angry young man” tradition. As punk flamed and pub rock waned, Graham Parker & the Rumour took the best of both worlds, emerging as England’s Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, the kind of act no one wanted to follow. After five studio LPs and five riveting live releases, Parker and the band split in 1980.
With as much energy as those albums, Three Chords Good also draws on Parker’s troubadour years, with an acoustic guitar and an aching vulnerability creeping into the proceedings. The Rumour, all of whom have kept busy over the years (bassist Andrew Bodnar moonlights as a librarian), keep everything chugging along with a loose confidence and effortless bonhomie, recalling The Band at its most cohesive. Particularly striking is the lyrical grace of soulful new single “Long Emotional Ride.” “I never took one word of advice, never in my whole life,” Parker sings over a smooth groove. “But now I want to hear what other people say, whether it’s wrong or it’s right.”
When asked by Rolling Stone why he cast Graham Parker in This Is 40, Apatow said, “We needed someone who’s amazing – but also struggling to sell records. On top of that, we needed someone who has a great sense of humor. And Graham has been very funny as an actor – as I somehow knew he would be – and when he plays, he’s better than ever.”
Although he’s notoriously self-effacing, Parker agrees with that assessment. “We’re better musicians now,” he says. “The tour will not be so much like a runaway train.” But it will be rocking, rest assured: “It’s safe to say the lads and I are excited about having a bash onstage again.” – Robert Burke Warren and Holly George-Warren
Graham Parker & the Rumour
Three Chords Good/This Is 40 Tour
35 Market Street, Poughkeepsie, NY
Sunday November 25th, 7 p.m.