Photos by Lou Montesano
One day soon Graham Parker is going to be a breakout star. It’s been 40 years since he released Howlin’ Wind, and he’s been at it ever since. His catalog continues to grow—with a steady stream of new music plus anthologies and live recordings from his earliest days as well as latter-day solo shows. Parker’s 2012 reunion with the Rumour was nearly as long in coming as German reunification. The simultaneous release of the movie This Is 40 introduced him to generations who had never heard his name, but it’s still mostly Paul Rudd types who come out for the edgy pop tunes that once seemed certain to allow Parker to take his place among more commercially successful contemporaries. Songs like “Local Girls,” “Stupefaction” and “Temporary Beauty” received ample FM air play, but Parker’s moment began to fade just when it seemed to be coming together for him. If he was an angry young man from the outset, he turned into a bitter middle-ager watching lesser versions of himself earn the recognition he desired and deserved.
Today’s Graham Parker seems to embrace his role as the artist who continues to write and perform, no matter the size of the audience, because that’s what artists do. In addition to on-again, off-again tours with the Rumour, he appears on his own and with various accompanists. Alongside him at New York’s City Winery on April 7 was one of his steadiest musical companions, Brinsley Schwarz, a core member of the Rumour as well as the Shot, the short-lived followup band that Parker formed after parting ways with the Rumour. Schwarz is a veteran of the British pub rock scene and an accomplished performer in his own right. Cheekily referring to themselves as the Graham Parker Duo, the pair opened their set with Parker on harmonica for “Watch the Moon Come Down,” setting the tone for an evening of stripped-down versions of the Graham Parker songbook. Standards like “Fool’s Gold,” “Passion Is No Ordinary Word” and “New York Shuffle” mixed with deeper cuts such as “Flying Into London,“ ”Lunatic Fringe” and “Stop Cryin’ About the Rain” before a solo encore of “You Can’t Be Too Strong” and Schwarz returning for “White Honey” to close it down.
Graham Parker refuses to quit, but we should have known that from titles like “No Holding Back” and “Squeezing Out Sparks.” He returns to City Winery on April 27, and will be back many times after that. He’s going to be a big star some day.