critic’s pick 258

Who could have foreseen the day when Graham Parker would reunite with his famed ‘70s band, The Rumour, and, as if by chance, simultaneously become something of a hip Hollywood attraction?

That is pretty much what has happened with the release of Three Chords Good, a splendid blend of terse lyrical expression and warm, soul saturated melody. Though Parker has been recording albums like this for ages, Three Chords Good represents the first collaborative work between the British singer/songsmith and The Rumour in 31 years.

Such a reunion might sail under the radar of all but the most devout of Parker fans if it weren’t for the fact he is also serving as the unlikely focal point of the new Judd Apatow film, This is 40. With Parker and his Rumour mates portraying themselves, This is 40 tells the story of an over-the-hill rock troupe vying for a comeback.

Three Chords Good isn’t exactly a nostalgia ride, however. In place of the punk-era immediacy that drove the band’s early records, the new album focuses on the other prime influence that fed into Parker’s robust ‘70s music – specifically, vintage soul. But even with the latter inspiration, the arrangements reflect a sound that has understandably settled with age. For much of the album, in fact, the twin guitars of Brinsley Schwartz and Martin Belmont take a back seat to the orchestral R&B warmth of keyboardist Bob Andrews.

Parker, however, hasn’t calmed down one bit. Three Chords Good opens and nearly closes with condemnations of the United States – or, more specifically, songs that address some of its most antiquated prejudices and imposed fears.

Set to a sleek reggae groove, Snake Oil Capital of the World outlines the saga of a beastly land that hustles foreign policy, as well as its own domestic righteousness, indiscriminately (“The old weird America, it never went anywhere”). But the really scary entry is Coathangers, a frighteningly topical tirade that takes a purposely prehistoric view of women’s reproductive rights (“Getting knocked up by your daddy is all your fault”).

The latter tune, which has been issued as a single, comes packed with Three Chords Good’s most infectious, rockish backdrop. It almost masks the subject matter. But the sobering title serves as a gruesome reality check.

There are other testy moments as well, like the warmongering Arlington’s Busy and the rockabilly-ish A Lie Gets Halfway ‘Round the World… (“… before truth gets its boots on”). But the sting of Parker’s songs is artfully balanced but the unexpectedly tempered soul cushion comfort of The Rumour, especially the ever-industrious and regally tasteful drumming of Steve Gouldling.

An ageless vocal hothead matched by a band’s scholarly sense of cool – now that’s rock ‘n’ roll.

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