Picks and Pans Review: Live! Alone in America

updated 05/01/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/01/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Graham Parker

Parker on a solo acoustic tour? What's wrong with this picture? Nothing, as it turns out. But at first consideration, the prospect of hearing this snarling British pub rocker without a crackling rock backup seems as alluring as seeing Jerry Lee Lewis touring with a clavichord. Instead of a musical oxymoron, Parker solo turns out to be a viable entity, as this show recorded at Philadelphia's Theater of Living Arts last October proves. Imagine Billy Bragg reconstituted in a more personal and polished approach. Some of Parker's songs—"Watch the Moon Come Down," "Hotel Chambermaid" and "You Can't Be Too Strong," for example—translate quite well to gentler readings. His voice in this simple setting turns out to be surprisingly sweet too. Performing in this unaccustomed mode, Parker is pretty smooth even though he's not a very shrewd or accomplished folkie. Because he strums the guitar instead of using fancier finger picking, the musical component tends to be too thin to support some songs, for example "Protection," "Back to School-days," and "Don't Let It Break You Down."

But because he is trying a new style doesn't mean he has lost his edge, as he shows by spitting out the words to "Soul Corruption," one of the album's three previously unrecorded songs. The other new composition that works best with this sparse accompaniment is "The Three-Martini Lunch," about a Hollywood fringe player on the skids. In the context of Parker's overall output, Alone in America is an oddity, but there is a goodly amount of meat on its bones. (RCA)

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