Inconsistently brilliant, Graham Parker has soared (Howlin' Wind, Squeezing Out Sparks) and slumped (The Real Macaw) ever since starting out as a bardic pub rocker in 1976. His best work in years, 12 is also his subtlest. On "Pollinate," the writer famed for trenchant sarcasm sings "People think I'm filled with hate/They got it wrong, that's out of date," and this new gentleness — both in love-song thematics and folksy grooves — suits the tough guy well. "First Day of Spring" is flat-out lovely; "Haunted Episodes" exudes jazzy, muted elegance. Autumnal in mood, gracious and honest, this is music of a clean, unsentimental maturity.
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