By Barry Gilbert


Saturday, June 9, 2007
Published online at

Graham Parker (center) headlines the third night of Twangfest 11 with the Figgs'
Mike Gent (left) and Pete Donnelly.
| Barry Gilbert
Graham Parker, whose album “Howling Wind” helped turn rock away from the more pretentious sounds of the ’70s, delivered a rousing 90-minute set Friday during the third night of Twangfest 11, St. Louis’ roots-music festival.

Introduced rightly as “the master,” the British-born singer-songwriter came onstage after a full night of superb music by pop-rockers Dolly Varden and country acts Elizabeth Cook and the Linemen.

But it took a while for Parker to, as he might say, “Start a Fire” in Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room.

The veteran pub rocker, whose appearance was a major coup for the nonprofit, all-volunteer festival, was warm, funny and engaging. But he started his set with four new and largely unfamiliar songs from his fine CD “Don’t Tell Columbus,” accompanying himself on guitar over loud chatter from much of the audience.

The last of those songs, “The Other Side of the Reservoir,” a poignant tale of displacement and separation, led into a series of older songs including the 1976 “Howling Wind” track “Silly Thing,” “Discovering Japan” and “Back to Schooldays,” which began shifting attention back to the teacher.

Guitarist Mike Gent of the Figgs, a power-pop band that headlines tonight’s final show of Twangfest, joined Parker for a slide-fueled cover of Little Feat’s “Sailing Shoes,” and the rest of the Figgs – Pete Donnelly on bass and Pete Hayes on drums – came out for the new, autobiographical “I Discovered America.” And the crowd discovered Parker.

From there it was a full-band romp through Parker’s amazing catalogue: “Start a Fire,” with Parker taking a guitar solo; the self-aware “Did Everybody Just Get Old” (Parker is 56); “Local Girls,” done as a sing-along; and the great “Soul Shoes.”

An encore featuring “Hotel Chambermaid” and the closer “The Raid” were sandwiched around a cover of “Reelin’ and Rockin’,” a tribute to regular Duck Room performer Chuck Berry.

Parker was preceded by Chicago’s Dolly Varden, a five-piece band built around the considerable songwriting and vocal talents of Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen, who weave roots rock with folk and pop textures that echo artists such as the Beatles and Beach Boys.

Their set was built around eight of the 10 tracks from their fine new CD, “The Panic Bell.” Highlights included “Sad Panda Clown’s Lament,” with its Beach Boys, “Smiley Smile”-era rhythm and harmonies; “Good Provider”; and “Your Last Mistake.”

Mark Bolletta added spare but exquisite guitar to Dawson and Christiansen’s personal songs, and even when the band was rocking, it gave the songs room to breathe.

Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen of Dolly Varden. | Barry Gilbert

Elizabeth Gook performs at
Twangfest 11.
| Barry Gilbert
The evening’s first two acts put the twang back in Twangfest.

Cook, appearing at Twangfest for the second time, brought mainstream country music to the stage – as well as some tap-dancing, storytelling and a Southern accent just made to purr “bless your heart.”

Cook is touring behind her new CD, “Balls” – the album title “that just keeps on giving,” she joked – and its title cut “Sometimes It Just Takes Balls to be a Woman” (take that, Tammy Wynette).

“And sometimes it just takes ovaries to be a man,” Cook cracked.

Supported by a fine band led by her significant other, Tim Carroll, on guitar and vocals, Cook scored with styles ranging from rockabilly (“Honky Tonk Girl”) to traditional country (a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again”) – and she invoked Mama several times, proving her country bonafides.

Continuing a Twangfest 11 trend of surprising covers, Cook also rolled out a beautiful version of the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning.”

Opening was the Linemen – singer-songwriter Kevin Butterfield, guitarist Scott Swartz, bassist Greg Lamb and drummer John Baldus -- the only St. Louis act in this year’s festival.

Featuring Butterfield’s classic country tenor and beautiful pedal steel guitar by Swartz, the Linemen delivered a low-key set dominated by original but authentic weepers and waltzes.

Highlights included “Sadder Day,” “Five Years Later,” “This Time Tomorrow” and the title track from their excellent debut CD, “Through Side One.”

St. Louis country band the Linemen
features Scott Swartz (left) on guitar and
pedal steel, and singer-songwriter Kevin Butterfield.
| Barry Gilbert