July 9, 2015 by Jay Minkin
The postman has been good to me this year with lots of packages filled with love of the musical variety. Due to some forks in the road in my personal life, the backlog of music has been staggering not only to consider reviewing, but just finding the time to give them a few spins on the CD player. One particular delivery included two new releases from The Grahams called Glory Bound and Rattle The Hocks caught my ear, but was placed into the on-deck circle. When I caught wind of the Nashville based duo heading to Cleveland to play the intimate Beachland Ballroom & Tavern sandwiched between guitar wizards Charlie Parr and our own Roger Hoover, it made for the perfect time to revisit an old friend.
Originally hailing from Manhattan, Alyssa Altschul Graham and husband Doug Graham grew up childhood sweethearts thanks to one of Alyssa’s older brothers playing on Doug’s little league team. Although they made their way to Music City three years ago, the couple has been literally living out of their car since the release of Riverman’s Daughter in 2013. The debut album was written from experiences traveling Great River Road that parallels the Mississippi River and living on a houseboat in the Atchafalaya swamp. For their next project, they decided to ride the train rails to the great plains of America in search of a producer along with the roots music fabric which inspired folk singer Bob Dylan. The locomotive pulled into Oklahoma, the home of Woody Guthrie and Wes Sharon. The twelve tracks cut for Glory Bound feature original songs written by the Grahams and longtime collaborator Bryan McCann. With big chops, the petite Alyssa on acoustic guitar is spotlighted on lead vocals having a blend of rock, blues, and country. Doug fills in the harmonies along with some nice lead guitar and Dobro work. A few special guests including Byron Berline, Ryan Engleman, Camille Harp, and John Fullbright lend their musical talents to the recordings.
But the conductor hadn’t finished punching the pair’s ticket as The Grahams headed to Memphis, New Orleans, and a meeting with Cody Dickinson. This leg of the journey created Rattle the Hocks, featuring nine live cuts from Glory Bound and two new songs “Tender Annabelle” and “Big John”. A nice cover of “City of New Orleans” recorded in the Crescent City complete with horns rounds out the album. Noted players on this record included Luther Dickinson, Duwayne Burnside, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and members of Lucero. A 30 minute musical documentary was filmed to offer a visual compliment to the travels and recording process.
Catching a live performance in the intimate tavern portion of the Beachland enhanced cuts from their catalog with the duo’s warm delivery. Writing stories and turning them into songs is the fabric which The Grahams develop their material. Being from New York, Alyssa isn’t bashful and not only set up the songs with a nice backstory, but also touched on life traveling the road and enjoying a few days off in Cleveland. Beginning with the dustbowl western “Griggstown”, the ten song set included a song about Doug titled “A Good Man”, the double-time picker “Kansas City”, the southern gospel flavored “Revival Time”, and “The Wild One” dedicated to their hometown. A song about giving something back to the future generation and being haunted by the past one was the gorgeous “Blow Wind Blow” and the couple’s beautiful harmonies were highlighted in “Biscuits”. The show came to a lovely close with The Grahams stepping off the stage into the tavern to sing the radio friendly “Glory Bound” to the delight of the audience.
Not too many artists have undertaken as heavy a load as The Grahams have done this year with two records and a short film. They will certainly be on my radar from now on and I’m looking forward to catching up with them again in Nashville during the Americana Music Association festivities. The Glory Bound album will be a nice edition to your record collection and after several spins could become a favorite by year end.