Cloud Symbols is a direct descendant of Graham Parker’s first two Nick-Lowe produced albums on which the Rumour backed the feisty singer/songwriter. But even tempered by time and experience, the exuberance of Heat Treatment and the urgency of Howlin’ Wind resonate just as deeply on this twenty-third album of by the British expatriate’s.
In the artist’s online account of the gestation and eventual completion of this album, Parker concedes the similarity of this new record to his early work and goes on to note how much of it was recorded live. Not surprisingly then, there’s an inspired spontaneity during tracks such as “Every Saturday Nite,” while nothing extraneous appears within the arrangements, including the six on which The Rumour Brass appear. On the contrary, the naturally disciplined musicianship of the core ensemble, The Goldtops (including Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont), evinces an economy corresponding to the uniformity of the production.
That continuity no doubt also accounts for the relative brevity of the album. But the camaraderie Parker shares with this ad hoc group of players is ever-present throughout this approximately thirty-minutes-plus playing time, equally affecting during reflective moments like “Maida Hill” or “Is The Sun Out Anywhere.” and on the more upbeat, infectious likes of “Ancient Past.” Graham flashes his acerbic side for the otherwise jaunty “Nothin’ From You” and during “What Happens When Her Beauty Fades,” he reminds us exactly how much he knows about appearance versus reality (remember “Mercury Poisoning”?). “Love Comes” thus sounds even more tender in comparison.
Meanwhile, with its casual brass and equally nonchalant backing vocals, “Dreamin’” vividly evokes the pithy approach of those seminal 1976 companion pieces. Accordingly, solos are few and far between, coming and going in a flash like Geraint Watkins’ piano interval on that number and, whether or not deliberately designed as such, the horn charts punctuating “Bathtub Gin” vividly evoke the earthy New Orleans atmosphere Allen Toussaint imparted to the Band’s Rock of Ages.
As fully and completely as Cloud Symbols recalls the one-two punch of Graham Parker’s earliest albums, there’s no sense of the man struggling to recapture past glories. More to the point, as he himself states during a character study in the song titled “Girl In Need:” ‘When you say you’re past your prime…Reinvent yourself one more time.’