"Struck by Lightning" Graham Parker (RCA) - Recorded in the same upstate New York environs as The Bands classic albums, this latest work by the feisty British singer/songwriter is an unalloyed triumph of songwriting skill and solid musicianship.
The best of his recent efforts to write songs chronicling his new-found maturity, "A Brand New Book" sums up Parker's outlook: "The words come out/Not twist and shot/'Cause that's not what a grown man writes about."
In typical Parker fashion, it's put across with a jaunty organ riff, crisp handclaps and a sprightly melody that belie the song's serious subject matter.
Jay Ungar's lithe violin propels what may be Parker's most beautiful song ever, "The Kid With the Butterfly Net."
Its celebration of the simple joys of childhood seems to have been written for anyone who's ever raised a kid - or been one.
But don't get the idea that Parker's wimped out.
Elvis Costello probably will turn green with envy when he hears "She Wants So Many Things," which catalogs the modern obsession with materialism in excruciatingly savage detail.
Parker's uncluttered production suits the songs perfectly.
John Sebastian and ex-Band mainstay Garth Hudson of Parker, ex-Rumour bassist Andrew Bodnar and former Elvis Costello & the Attractions drummer Pete Thomas.
The classic Hammond organ added by Hudson and keyboard player Larry Hoppen, together with Parker's occasional harmonic, favorably evoke Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde" sound without slavishly trying to recreate it.
"Struck by Lightning" flags slightly in its second half, but let's not quibble; this is one terrific album.
"Night Ride Home," Joni Mitchell (Geffen) - Following her heyday as one of the quintessential Southern California singer/songwriters, Mitchell confounded some longtme fans with dabblings in jazzier styles in the late 1970s.
Recent albums have marked a return to her more traditional style, and the cycle becomes nearly complete with "Night Ride Home"
Its music has been simplified and stripped of extraneous trappings, leaving it to rise and fall (but mostly rise) on the strength of its songs and Mitchell's quietly intense vocals.
The title track shows Mitchell at her best.
Her terse lyrics evoke the feel of the summer evening car right they describe, right down to chirping crickets in the background. "Ray's Dad's Cadillac" captures a similar automobile-related atmosphere, this time tinted with pleasant nostalgia.
Mitchell turns some especially bitter phrases during the acidic put-down of materialism, The Windfall (Everything for Nothing)": "You'd ear your young alive/for a Jaguar in the drive."
A few of the songs, like "Nothing Can Be Done," reflect Mitchell's way with lyrics but stint in melody.
And, yes, the lengthy adaptation of William Butler Yeats' poem "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" succeeds only at being pretentious and boring.
Fortunately, those are only momentary lapses. Elsewhere, Mitchell's vocals sound more mature and much less flighty than in the past, and there are enough memorable songs such as "Come in From the Cold" to make this "Night Ride Home" a rewarding one.
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Added to Library on August 6, 2021. (1419)
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