Tia McGraff – Stubborn In My Blood
Tia McGraff’s recent three year run has placed her in a position where she deserves ranking as one of the Americana scene’s best singer/songwriters. Her ongoing collaboration with musical and life partner Tommy Parham, over a decade old, has produced an impressive discography of recordings and a history of gripping live performances. They’ve recently played the Bluebird Café in Nashville, earned feature status on BBC 2’s Bob Harris Country show, and garnered international praise for the duo’s most recent album Crazy Beautiful. Their latest album Stubborn in My Blood is an eleven song collection shapes up to be perhaps their finest recording yet and includes songs certain to enhance their live shows and increase their stature. The presentation is more polished than ever before and reveals depths to these songs lesser production and forethought might have missed.
“Pilot of Change” is an elegant, country influenced track with a deliberate tempo and satisfying changes. It’s always a pleasure to hear a songwriter and performer so obviously focused on serving the song above all else, A strong storytelling quality comes from the lyrics and McGraff’s talent for painting a narrative and drawing character with significant details, The build towards the song’s chorus is handled quite well and pays off with a climatic flourish. “Hole in Your Heart” is a muted, haunted tune with a smattering of reverb laced electric guitar buzzing in for occasional splashes of color. The largely acoustic nature of the song doesn’t feel like any sort of come down from the opener.
The care and consideration given to “Own Your Sunshine” more than does justice to the exquisite songwriting and individual turns of phrase. Many say there’s nothing new left under the sun, but what powers art’s continued effect on its audience is how an artist can make time tested themes seem fresh again through the force of their experience and language. The gossamer lightness of the music, dream-like in some ways, definitely embraces tradition, but never sounds imitative or interprets Americana music like a butterfly pinned under glass. Instead, these songs are living and breathing rather than slavish invocation of the past. “Strong” is one of the album’s best tracks and its ballad construction succeeds because it presses all the right buttons along the way. The piano playing is beautifully lyrical without ever seeming overwrought and McGraff pushes her voice harder than ever before.
Despite the title, “Stubborn in My Blood” is a light, pastoral tune with a memorable vocal presentation and McGraff excels juxtaposing her voice against the melodic arrangement. It’s one of the album’s most eloquent statements. “One Tin Solider”, a classic folk rock track from the late 1960’s, is revisited and the gradual ramping up of its musical intensity pays off in a big way for listeners. The cover rates as one of the best performances on Stubborn in My Blood. The album’s penultimate number “The Faithful Ones” returns the album’s sound to a spartan folky/county-esque sound punctuated by some lyrical fiddle playing. The easy meander of the album’s final song “Forbidden” closes the release in an elegiac, thoughtful mood and you finish listening to Stubborn in My Blood feeling satisfied and slightly elevated by a release from Tia McGraff fine enough to stand alongside any of her peers and possibly her best yet.