Production fashion may change around him, but Graham Parker is one British rocker from the ‘70s who has trusted his swing for the whole ride. Surveying a prolific career that has had more commercial valleys than peaks, it is hard not to be impressed by the unwavering consistency of the output in both senses of the word: consistent quality and consistent persona — the acid tongue that won’t be held and the proverbial tender underbelly.
Parker’s greatest asset may be fungibility; grab a Graham Parker song, any Graham Parker song, and you’re going to get what you paid for: lean, Stonesy soul rock with smart, sparky lyrics and yeoman hooks — meat hooks — that don’t over-reach. Pure pop melodic invention has never been his forte, which may be one reason why scene mates like Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe have gone further musically and commercially. But Parker’s pocket is deep, capacious, and real. And if you feel you’ve heard all the riffs before, there is always a lyrical line just around the corner that is going to surprise you.
Parker’s essential Parker-ness is best served by the Rumour, a loose-but-tight pub rock all-star band that was there with him on his fine 1976 debut Howlin’ Wind, and on his definitive critic’s-pick winner Squeezing Out Sparks (1979). Parker parted ways with the Rumour in the mid-‘80s, presumably to chase commercial viability and the modern tones that would deliver it. While the songs were as live-wire as ever, 1985’s successful Steady Nerves just sounds all wrong by comparison to the Rumour records, the period reverbs and chorused guitars enveloping Graham in a remote synthetic gauze that must have sounded money to some coked up executives at the time.
But the Rumour wouldn’t die. In 2011, Parker reunited the full six-piece lineup for Three Chords Good, the title of which seems to be a dyslexic inversion of the populist mantra “three chords and the truth,” variously attributed to Woody Guthrie, the Clash, Harlan Howard, Willie Nelson and U2. In any case, sight unseen, there is no question about how the Rumour sounds to this day: Good. Just good.
Graham Parker & the Rumour, Sunday, November 25, 7 p.m., $43, $38 Members, Bardavon Opera House, 35 Market Street Poughkeepsie, 845 473.2072, bardavon.org.