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Graham Parker mines the past

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., September 11, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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A good three decades into his career, Graham Parker hasn't changed all that much in some ways. And that's not a bad thing. He still has a bit of an edge about him, but one supposes it's more all in good fun than ego at play. But most importantly as demonstrated by his 100-minute show, his musical skills remain solidly intact from quality of songs to delivery to vocals.

The Brit, who has long lived in upstate New York, began in 1976 as a pub rocker with two great albums, "Heat Treatment" and "Howlin' Wind" done with his ace backing band The Rumour. He never became a huge star, but continued making quality music over the years without ever really relying on churning out hits to keep his career going. Interestingly, in recent years, while on the Bloodshot Records label, Parker, 57, has mined far more of a country and rootsy sound with his last year's "Don't Tell Columbus" a solid effort.

During the show, Parker tended to rely more so on his first two discs than anything else, starting off with a reworked version of Fool's Gold, where the Dylan influence was quite apparent. He went for more of a country beat on the somewhat faster and more forceful Backdoor Love. Parker, who was solo acoustic for most of the night, sang well with his voice quite clear and his playing forceful on songs like Hard Side of Rain from "Don't Tell Columbus." He went slightly tougher when he took out his electric guitar - the twangy start of Get Started Start a Fire was particularly strong with a lot of tremolo.

If there would be one criticism, it's that Parker relied too heavily on his old catalogue with most of the songs being decades old, like That's What They All Say, a reworked version of the snarling chestnut with very nice use of harp, Don't Ask Me Questions, Just Something You're Going Through, Local Girls, White Honey and Back to Schooldays.

None of the songs sounded dated or routine for Parker, but it would have also been nice to hear more cuts from more recent albums, including "Songs of No Consequence" and "Don't Tell Columbus." They are solid bodies of music.

But apparently Parker knew why he had a good turnout and a warm response from the crowd - maybe they were fans from the get go - and that's not such a bad place to be.

Mike Gent, guitarist for The Figgs, had a winning opening set, getting the crowd's attention with some good songs, including a humorous one aimed at Guns N' Roses. He fleshed out Parker's sound during his encore with guitar and vocals.