It only stands to reason Graham Parker would want to document the live performance that comprises 5 Old Souls
. Cloud Symbols
(100% Records, 2018) was an utterly remarkable return to form. With uncanny accuracy but not one iota of self-consciousness, the curmudgeonly Brit hearkened directly to that earthy one-two punch by which he first gained attention via Howlin' Wind
(Mercury, 1976) and Heat Treatment
For all its superficial similarities, however, this live music may not radiate the often hellbent-for-leather abandon of Parker's earlier work with the Rumour. Nevertheless, as recorded on 10/10/18, during a tour with the same backing band as the preceding releaseThe Goldtops augmented by The Rumour Brassthis concert document is an apt companion piece to the studio release. All seventeen-tracks are replete with the same deceptively casual confidence that permeates its counterpart.
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, at the outset of this approximately sixty minutes, Parker and company begin somewhat slowly. But they are nonetheless courageous too, the song choices hearkening as much to Graham's extended history as his more recent discography. "Old Soul" actually derives from the 2012 GP/Rumour reunion album Three Chords Good
(Primary Wave, 2012), while "Things I've Never Said" comes off the wryly-titled Your Country
(Bloodshot Records, 2004).
Cover material on 5 Old Souls
, however, may be its most telling song choices. Two selections in particular remind us of Parker's modern r&b/soul roots, while at the same time reaffirm his staunch belief a good pop tune can display as much passion as intellect. Ergo, "You Left the Water Running," written by famed Muscle Shoals songwriter Dan Penn (and originally recorded by Otis Redding
!) gets a staunch reading on par with the jaunty likes of "Hold Back the Night," a selection from the discography of the Tramps from Philadelphia.
The ensemble proceeds at a leisurely pace on both and thereby maintain a tone of quiet authority that carries over into vintage selections such as "Back Door Love;" Geraint Watkins' bright piano there communicates precisely the right lighthearted air. The Rumour Brass doesn't make an appearance until "White Honey," but its dramatic entrance is worth waiting for: saxophonist Ray Beavis, trombonist Toby Gucklhorn and trumpeter Dick Hanson propel the core band along with an exalting joy that matches the panache in the frontman's singing.
At the very same time, the rhythm section comprised of Simon Edwards on bass and drummer Roy Dodds never missteps in stabilizing their bandmembers. As a result, the eight-piece unit also acquits itself stylishly on highlights from Cloud Symbols
: culls such as "Dreamin'" sound of a piece with well-aged surroundings like "Hotel Chambermaid." There, as throughout the album, the audio is clean if unrefined, within which mix each and every element of the band's dense arrangements gets the proper prominence.
Guitarist Martin Belmont's instrumental flourishes are thus readily apparent as he purposefully leads The Goldtops. On "Every Saturday Nite," for instance, his bracing chords ensure the band continues to play with fluidity, even as it the arrangements sound a bit slick at times. Still, the virtues of grace and power are more prevalent on the instrumental "Rockin' Hawk;" another cull from The Rumour repertoire, where the group sounds much larger than its number.
While Graham Parker, the Goldtops and The Rumour Brass are clearly playing to fans at The Engine Room in Southampton, England, the hearty response(s) from the audience hardly sounds forced. On the contrary, the attendees come across as earnest in their own way as the musicians themselves. As a result, while that mutually affectionate camaraderie may recall the past on 5 Old Souls
, it comes to full flower in the spirit of the (present) moment.
Old Soul; Things I've Never Said; Back Door Love; GP Introduces The Band; Hotel Chambermaid; White Honey; Ancient Past; Bathtub Gin; Lady Doctor; Dreamin'; Every Saturday Nite; You Left The Water Running; Not If It Pleases Me; Hold Back The Night; Rockin' Hawk; Heat Treatment; Soul Shoes.
Graham Parker: acoustic & electric guitar; Geraint Watkins: backing vocals; Simon Edwards: backing vocals.