Graham Parker pointedly calls his new album “Your Country,” but the Bloodshot release shows the British singer-songwriter can speak the language of Haggard, Cash and Owens like a native. At the Knitting Factory on Wednesday night, backed by new band the Twang Three, Parker played an inconsistent set that only intermittently achieved the album’s taut, vinegary ease.
Early going was impressive, with the album’s “Anything for a Laugh” and a flinty rendering of Jerry Garcia’s “Sugaree” showing off Parker’s gruff vocals and the band’s ramshackle playing. Konrad Meissner’s easygoing drumming kept things loose but moving, while Drew Glackin and Tom Freund switched back and forth between bass and guitar.
It soon became obvious that Parker’s country shared at least a border with Bob Dylan’s. “Tornado Alley” shares the rollicking carnival atmosphere of “The Basement Tapes,” and Freund’s keyboard work on the rearranged “You’ve Got to Be Kidding” makes it sound like a cousin to “Positively 4th Street.”
But midway through the set, Parker gave Freund the spotlight — a generous move that backfired. The latter’s “Copper Moon” is a lovely song on its own terms, but its dreamy vibe dampened Parker’s momentum, which he never really recovered.
A series of ballads fell flat. Pro-forma anti-Hollywood diatribe “Three Martini Lunch” — never that great a song to begin with — is given a leaden band arrangement. And one of his best songs, the soulfully yearning “Fools Gold,” loses its melodic luster in a lumpy country-rock reworking.
More successful were the encore’s “Crawling Through the Wreckage (Revisited),” which turns the rockabilly number (originally performed by Dave Edmunds) into a chugging trucker’s lope, and a cover of the early Rolling Stones single “Tell Me.”
Opener Anne McCue is an intriguing performer. “I Want You Back,” from sophomore album “Roll” (Messenger Records), proves she can sing and write a compelling country/pop song that can withstand comparisons to Lucinda Williams’ work. Suffering from a cold Wednesday night, her voice sounded a little rough but McCue’s impressive guitar playing more than compensated. An epic lap-steel solo during “Ballad of an Outlaw Woman” moved from stately drama to a chaotic wail. Watching a performer who’s a triple threat as singer, songwriter and guitarist is a rare treat, indeed.