Paper Parlor - Hey Frankie!

by Richard Thomas

Paper Parlor lists as its influences Zeppelin, Zappa, Zevon, Sabbath, Funkadelic, Floyd, Hendrix, Steely Dan, Tull, Heart, Rush, Yes, The Band … See a pattern here? Sure, they include a few more recent acts (Death Cab for Cutie, Rancid, Chili Peppers) but really they’re like something out of the late 1960s to mid-‘70s. 

That’s not a bad thing. Actually, considering that era is the pinnacle of human creativity -- DON’T ARGUE! --  that’s a great thing. The band has its own asskicking, whoa-what’s-this vibe, not only reviving hard rock from half a century ago but redefining it.

Probably my imagination, but it feels like the album was engineered to have the fat, slightly fuzzed sound of an 8-track tape. (I know, 8-track died for good reason, but a lot of us have a soft spot for it.) It’s almost jarring when the song “Raving Madman” mentions the internet, reminding us that we’re in the 21st century.

The title track starts out rockabilly, shifts into wow chicka wow funk during the bridge, then goes back to rockabilly and speeds up for a breathless finale. The lyrics may or may not have something to do with the album cover. (A wiener dog named Frankie, get it?) Indeed much of the words on this album are, true to ‘70s hard rock tradition, difficult to understand. What is decipherable covers the usual topics of smoking and drinking too much (“The lock on my back door has got a lot of scratches / cause I’ve been here before trying to find the keys that’ll gain me access”), failing at life and the redemptive power of love. 

Maybe they’ll eventually provide a lyric sheet, but in the meantime the words provide a serviceable base for the passionate vocals. Which sound kind of like ‘60s-icon Tommy James. Except for “How Hung is You,” a crowd-pleasing epic singalong and candidate for breakout hit, if such things exist in the age of online streaming. Here the voice sounds closer to ‘80s-era Guns N’ Roses, “Mr. Brownstone” to be exact.

“Silver Spoon” is an infectious countrified rocker. “Edm” is an instrumental that starts out unmistakably in Hendrix style, but branches out into an extended jam more like the Bloomfield-Kooper-Stills 1968 album “Super Session.” “Copheels” and “Before It Starts to Leave” are sonic attacks on the audience, overwhelming with pounding drums and guitars. “Copheels” only pauses to hit the high “ooh hoos,” a deja vu to Spirit’s “Mr. Skin.” It’s possible the band never heard Super Session or Mr. Skin -- well, they probably heard Super Session -- but they picked up the language somewhere.

The pace deceptively slows at the beginning of the reggae-ish “Token,” but it’s really just set-up for the second half, a soaring jam. I hope it goes on longer in live shows. There’s not a weak moment on the album, from the ballad “Long Road Home (to Nowhere)” to the bluesy “Li’l Zeke.” “Social Lottery” is a towering, dark masterpiece. The album closes out with the instrumental “Texas Toast,” a welcome excuse to show off their musician skills.

This is a criminally underappreciated band. Maybe someone should advise them to come up with a less forgettable name; “Paper Parlor” comes from having a room with ideas on paper and in notebooks all over the floor. (Even that notion is kind of retro — no laptops!) But even after several enthusiastic spins I kept thinking of their name as Paper Lace, the ‘70s one-hit wonder. (You know, “The Night Chicago Died” … don’t ask. That era was also the pinnacle of cheesiness. I’ve heard the Parlor does “Kung Fu Fighting” live and I’d love to hear what they do with it, but some things should rest in peace.) Still, this band has been around for a decade. There have been successful acts with far worse names (Beatles: bugs with rhythm and hardened wing cases) so it is what it is. Just listen.