An album release by a lady who owns a beautiful dog called Jake and has written a children’s book based on said canine can only be a good thing…I am the proud owner (or I am actually owned by) two West Highland White puppies who at the time of writing are 12 weeks old and currently intent on ripping Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to shreds, so as a dog lover too, she already has my approval. Rudolph, by the way, is a toy and not real! Then to discover that she is a Canadian with Transylvanian and Scottish heritage made me like her even more.
The lady in question is from Ontario Canada and is an award-winning singer-songwriter and author. She is Tia McGraff and, throughout her musical career she has had her “life/musical partner”, Tommy Parham alongside continually showing his prowess on the guitar…particularly slide. They met and married while living in Nashville, and have been performing, song writing and recording together for more than 12 years. They have recently released their seventh album, Stubborn In My Blood and, with the cover showing Tia in blood red boxing gloves, I was looking forward to a slightly edgier, harder hitting collection of songs than the previous, country leaning albums.
Opener, Pilot of Change, certainly has country and folk overtures but, within that structure, it’s her vocal that carries the piece. A little lightweight for me, but it illustrates the common factor throughout this album: the superb instrumentation that backs Tia’s emotionally effective vocals. Hole In Your Heart is next and stays in the county-ish ballad format with only guitar as accompaniment and Tommy once again shows his formidable skills on acoustic guitar. The next one is all about Travelin’ By Guitar and features Cindy Cashdollar on the wonderful dobro. Cindy is probably best known as a performer with Asleep At The Wheel and is a dab hand at the dobro and lap-steel as well as earning five Grammys for previous work. This is slightly up tempo with really clever acoustic strumming and very subtle bass and drum (singular), backing the whole thing. The slide is there, albeit behind the melody and there is a short but tasty solo from Tommy…put together it is by far the best track here. Own Your Sunshine is pure country but is lifted from pastiche by the underrated banjo punctuating the basic acoustic backing. Let ‘Em See Your Strong is not, as I first thought, poor grammar but with its solo piano intro and clever lyricism it is as good as country can get. Title track, Stubborn In My Blood, is where we here of Tia’s lineage as she mentions her Transylvanian and Scottish Jacobite ancestry in a song that has, rightly, definite Celtic influences. The bass line throughout is so clear and resonant and really lifts the song. Next is a cover of One Tin Soldier; a song written by fellow Canadian songwriters, Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, and released in 1969 in Canada by Original Caste and, more famously the rock band, Coven. They also wrote songs for Dusty Springfield, The Four Tops and Glen Campbell. This, due to its timely lyrics, was adopted by anti Vietnam War factions and is the only song on the album that Tia didn’t have a hand in writing. Here With Me Tonight has a sadness to it that Tia communicates so well; Tia calls it “Ted’s song.” It was written in honour of her cousin who was in final stages battling cancer. The carefully picked guitar is also, literally, on song too. Far Away Man moves from country into a distinctive folk song, emphasised by the solitary fiddle colouring in the spaces between the lyrics. The Faithful Ones brings in a touch of gospel to the banjo, acoustic and fiddle theme. The banjo is simple but simply gorgeous. The final track was written in Liverpool with UK songwriters, Henry Priestman (a founder member of the ‘art school” band Yachts and also the driving force behind pop band, The Christians) and Peter Riley (known from his band Treehouse and numerous collaborations with such artists as Narada Michael Walden, John Beck, Kevin Kinney and Garry Christian. It has a strong, almost traditional country lilt and is actually a quite lovely love song with a harmony chorus to distinguish it from many of this ilk.
This is an album that would not normally grace my speakers, as it is a bit too country and folk for me, and yet…and yet it is actually thoroughly enjoyable and I would think that true country lovers would absolutely adore this whole album. It is very well produced and every instrument is clearly audible and Tia’s voice rings strong and true throughout. So it is quite simple…love country? Then buy this!
SEVENdoodle paws out of TEN …
Track listing and composers:
- Pilot of Change (Tia McGraff/Tommy Parham)
- Hole In Your Heart (Tia McGraff/Tommy Parham)
- Travelin’ By Guitar (Tia McGraff/Tommy Parham/Wood Newton)
- Own Your Sunshine (Tia McGraff/Tommy Parham)
- Let ‘Em See Your Strong (Tia McGraff/Tommy Parham/Devon O’Day)
- Stubborn In My Blood (Tia McGraff/Tommy Parham)
- One Tin Soldier (Dennis Lambert/Brian Potter)
- Here With Me Tonight (Tia McGraff/Tommy Parham)
- Far Away Man (Tia McGraff/Tommy Parham)
- The Faithful Ones (Tia McGraff/Tommy Parham)
- Forbidden (Tia McGraff/Tommy Parham/Henry Priestman/Peter Riley)
Tia McGraff: vocals
Tommy Parham: guitar, banjo
Devon O’Day: piano
Cindy Cashdollar: dobro
Apologies to any other musicians who appeared but aren’t credited above…the information wasn’t easy to find.