By Mark Guarino
What do angry young men do when they discover they qualify for the senior discount?
Stay fired up. At a sold-out show at Martrys Friday, Graham Parker, the 53-year-old British singer-songwriter, demonstrated age can be a renewable source for inspiration instead of a road sign for self-parody and irrelevance.
Parker debuted in 1976 as one of a new crop of singer-songwriters arriving in punk’s first wave. Less overtly political than countrymen the Clash and Sex Pistols, Parker and peers like Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson stored up their venom for songs dealing with class warfare and wounded romance.
As the years wore on, Parker flirted with Top 40 success but never remained there. Record company woes and his refusal to expand into divergent genres kept him from wider success. But his cult of fans that stuck with him knew his rapier wit and blue-collar soul was unwavering — on the cover of a greatest hits collection, he posed wielding a blowtorch.
After a string of scattershot albums in the ‘90s, Parker emerges rekindled with “Your Country,” newly released on Bloodshot, the Chicago-based roots label. Like recent third acts by Bob Dylan and the late Warren Zevon, the highly literate set of songs sound coming from an old sage casting his eyes forward into the twilight years instead of gripping onto familiar laurels.
Not that his bite had grown blunt. Backed a band he called the Twang Three, Parker whipped through new songs that both painted him as a sad clown (“Anything for a Laugh”) and others that demonstrated he still knew how to fire off a joke (the politically incorrect trailer park comedy “Tornado Alley”).
With Drew Glackin on lap steel and Tom Freund playing lead guitar and harmonies, the new songs were cast in a frisky country setting, veering between bittersweet, mournful and, on occasion, gleefully rude. “Crawling From the Wreckage,” a hit he wrote for countryman Dave Edmunds in 1979, was redone using mandolin and a stomping hillbilly beat.
Although Parker donned his career uniform of black shirt and wraparound shades, he refused to fully own up to his spitfire stereotype. Among the most moving songs of his 22-song, 100-minute show was “Almost Thanksgiving Day,” with its bittersweet arrangement and lonesome lap steel.
Parker bowed to the crowd’s requests for songs spanning his almost 30-year career, from power pop to roots rock. The blunt observations in songs like “Success” and “(Over the Border) To America” remained remarkably on target all these years later. And on “Nation of Shopkeepers,” a new song acknowledging his blue-collar blood, Parker’s defiant spirit made losing sound remarkably like winning.