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New Elvis Costello and Graham Parker albums follow separate paths 

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Two scrawny bespectacled bards, Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, share a history separated by a mere two years, but what a difference it made. Parker arose in the 1974-75 British pub-rock era of Brinsley Schwarz, but Costello’s 1977 debut album arrived with full-rage punk. Of the two artists’ new works, the reunited Elvis Costello & The Imposters’ Look Now (Concord Records) is the more diverse, but Graham Parker & The Goldtops provide a more consistently pub-style boogie on Cloud Symbols (100% Records).

While some may have hoped The Imposters would bring back the sound of 1978’s This Year’s Model, Costello’s decades of dabbling in jazz have led to a more Imperial Bedroom vibe. Tracks like “Stripping Paper” are incredibly rich in both lyrics and arrangement, making this Costello’s most consistent album in years, though not his most rocking.

Parker’s band The Goldtops evoke a more Muscle Shoals sound, while the clever lyrics on tracks like “Bathtub Gin” owe a lot to his Heat Treatment-era work. On balance, Costello remains the literate wunderkind, while Parker is the one who’ll keep the dance floor moving.

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