The broadcast on PBS of Martin Scorcese’s documentary, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan,
earlier the same week underscored the importance of honesty, integrity and substance in music. As Bob Neuwirth noted in the film, back in the early ’60s, artists were measured on whether they had “anything to say.” While such a litmus test can easily become pedantic, it still raises the issue of art versus commerce. In the film, Dylan was nearly crucified by the folkniks who felt he’d gone commercial. In the end, their liberating “return to basics” became the noose by which they tried to silence an unfettered artist.
Interestingly enough, Graham Parker took the stage for his solo show at the intimate Old Town School of Folk Music with an acoustic guitar and harmonica rack: the image of folk simplicity. The parallels to a young, upstart Dylan were striking. The differences were just as important. While he may have a touch of the protest singer’s spirit in him, as he launched into a rhapsodic take on “Watch The Moon Come Down,” his mix of blue-eyed soul, sardonic bite and rock ’n’ roll heart came forward, and the complex nature of Mr. Parker ruled the evening.
Indeed, the London-born Parker is not typically thought of as a troubadour in the Dylan mold. But he does now reside in upstate New York (where Dylan retreated to in the mid ’60s) and over the last decade some of his finest songs have expressed his deep concern over the ever-broadening internal threats to his adopted home—not only its environment and heritage, but its very soul. Not far into the set, Parker offered two new, unrecorded songs which continued in this vein: cautionary tale “The Other Side of the Reservoir” and the biting “I Discovered America.”
But that is not to say G.P. simply assailed his audience with soap boxing. Highlights of the evening included the spare country groove of “Between You and Me” (from his very first album) and the vitriolic skank of “Evil” (from his most recent disc). In between he reinvented Van Morrison’s maudlin gem, “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” and rendered “Local Girls,” one of his best-known songs, as a reckless audience sing-along.
Folk, reggae, soul, rock, country, etc. In the end, what makes all the aspects of Parker’s music work is his honesty. And in a one-on-one with the audience, it glowed brightly