Your Country

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The best lyricist (with Elvis Costello) to emerge from British new wave, Parker, like Costello, has a special gift for the acerbic line and withering throwaway. But that was more than 20 years ago, and as the ’80s turned to ’90s and beyond, Parker’s career began to resemble Michael Moore’s version of Flint — more historical footnote than place of interest. How bad was it? In the last dozen years, he’s released more than twice as many live albums (seven) as new releases (three), in his transition from searing pub-rocker to singer/songwriter (though still more crusty than sensitive). The writing was still inspired, the music less so, setting the stage for his cheekily named excursion into the white-hot Americana movement, Your Country.

The new album is easily his most enticing in 20 years. Far from sounding like a Johnny-come-lately, Parker settles right in with an effort that shifts seamlessly from rambling, Dylan-esque country-folk ("Queen of Compromise") to rustic, harmonica-fueled blues-shuffle ("The Rest Is History") to loping, tear-in-the-beer country on "Cruel Lips," (featuring a duet with Lucinda Williams). The writing is typically sharp and incisive, including a pair of fantastic character sketches — "Anything for a Laugh," which follows a second-rate comic on the road as he wonders if his comedy is "just a shield in front of me," and the amusing "Tornado Alley," where a cuckolded lover happily salutes the twister that took his trailer park sweetie away. More than a treat for diehards, it’s a terrific entrée into Parker’s oeuvre, a start-to-finish triumph that’s a veritable box of chocolates to lapsed fans.

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