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Parker Paul

Parker Paul is a throwback, the kind of entertainer you don't encounter very often anymore. The former member of the Charlottesville, VA indie rock group The Curious Digit has turned into a slightly loopy, rather boozy-sounding crooner who sings whimsical, sometimes cryptic tunes along with a rambling jazz piano. The songs on his two Jagjaguwar Records full-lengths, Lemon-Lime Room (2000) and Wingfoot (2001), reveal an old-time, slightly vaudevillian package of traits: a strong storytelling instinct, a tendency to adopt confessional tones, and a taste for quirky offbeat images.

Take the song "We Miss Our Lady," a moving story about a father and son's domestic life after the mother has left, which begins, "Me and the boy we love each other/We eat our greens, we drink our water/We clean the toilet, we sweep the walk/We listen to each other talk," and ends, "I can not think of you with another/I can not think of you with another." All this in a throaty voice that sounds like it's seen no shortage of gin and cigarettes, set to nothing more than warm, loose piano chords.

And sometimes he sounds downright nuts, though even then he makes a strange kind of sense. From the same album, "Sin, Sin" features such surreal, elliptical lyrics as "Few marry their true love/Chinese sweatshop cuties made your X-mas tree dove/The evening news is less honest than porn/Satan rarely wears horns." The words just sort of fall there in your lap, leaving you with little to do but sit there and sip your drink and contemplate their elliptical meaning.

The same great offbeat truths abound on Paul's follow-up, Wingfoot. See "Secret Monorail": "I can't remember why we're guilty," he intones in his reedy sing-speak, "I can't remember why we mourn/The reasons we kill ourselves/Have stopped seem worth dying for/Come back to try, come back to try." On "Pain Pain Pain Pain Pain," the lyrical gem of the album, Paul observes "Pain is annoying, pain is boring/Pain takes you off your game/Makes you mistrust your joints and angles."

Musically, Wingfoot does sound a bit richer than Paul's debut, because he assembled an impressive group of musicians for it, including old band mate Adam Busch (Manishevitz) and a pair of esteemed Chicago area experimental jazz stalwarts, trombonist Jeb Bishop and Fred Lonberg-Holm. So Paul's appealing compositions are enlivened by some brass, cello, guitars, and back up vocals, but always at their center is this woozy piano hall crooner and his ubiquitous piano.

You might hear shades of Randy Newman, Loudon Wainwright III, and perhaps Tom Waits's first couple of records in Parker Paul's boozy, bluesy style, but he's very much his own animal. He's the musical equivalent of that guy at the bar who's probably had a couple too many, and starts spilling his guts to you, sharing his pain and his strange life, so you almost feel embarrassed for him, but he's telling it all so well that you don't feel like saying it's all going to be OK or suggesting that he just go home and get some sleep. And after awhile, you stop looking at your watch, maybe you even buy him another drink, and you just sit there and listen to his stories until the bartender says it's closing time.