Diversity is a great name for singer – songwriter Tia McGraff’s new album, because rather than reflecting only the country music vibes for which she is highly regarded, this collection of songs will appeal to fans of Adult Contemporary, Country Music and yes even to Rock music fans. This is not a contrived recording, designed to target definite commercial markets, but instead is the natural progression of an incredible songwriter and gifted singer, who collaborates with an equally gifted arranger, Scott Brasher and complimented by Ms. McGraff’s husband Tommy Parham, whose guitar playing takes these songs to another breathtaking level.
The album opens with the song “Angry Eagle,” a song that Tia McGraff first recorded late in 2009, a missive to the American government and corporate America about the state of the economy, with people losing their jobs and homes, and jobs that are shipped to countries such as China. In February 2011, sadly the song is just as relevant, if not more. This is not a protest song. It is more of a lament and the posing of the question why, set to a beautiful arrangement by Scott Brasher.
The pace of Diversity changes with “Autumn Leaves” and the changing of seasons becomes the metaphor for a relationship that is also in transition. It is about a woman who is alone in love and now she is questioning why that is, for she has been neglected for far too long. For this song, Tia McGraff’s brand of Country Music is more contemporary rather than reflecting a twang and there are subtle elements of early sixties rock in the playing of Tommy Parham (guitars), Brian Hincliffe (bass), the drumming of Tommy Harden and percussionist Gino Mirizio.
The third song “Lavender Tea,” presents a lighter theme and the listener might ask if the scene that unfolds before us is a page taken from Tia McGraff and Tommy Parham’s lives with the misty ambience, the April rain is falling and as the singer opens the window she “can almost hear the leaves waking up from winter,” and then they sit on the front porch, sharing the paper. As they contemplate a drive in the countryside the mood is contentment and there is no doubting the love that exists and Tia McGraff does a great job of conveying that feeling. “Lavender Tea,” showcases the pretty vocals of Ms. McGraff and the missive is that happiness can often be found in the simplest of things and just enjoying what is right in front of us.
“Tumbleweed,” has that country theme, with lonely people in lonely bars and as Waylon Jennings once sung, “I was looking for love in all the wrong places.” It is about choosing what we think is love and then when morning comes, we realize that a decision made in a moment of weakness, left us feeling hollow. There is a reminder here for all of us that there are a lot of lonely people in this world. You may not know it unless you look closely, because in public they smile, say all the right things and laugh in all the right places, but they are the single people, the seniors, the poor, those without family and those who are single parents without family to help. The metaphors of a ghost town, tumbleweeds and drifters are used to great effect.
Listening to one of Tia McGraff’s songs is a lot like watching a good cinematographer at work, as the images unfold before you and sometimes the colors are vivid and bright, while at other times they consist of poignant and lonely figures, such as depicted in “Los Souls Left Luggage.” One cannot say enough about the arrangements created by Scott Brasher who provides the musical canvass upon which Ms. McGraff’s lyrical brushstrokes find a home. Tia McGraff accompanies herself on piano and the playing is soft and gentle, never intruding upon the scene at the train platform or the lonely figure who sets his luggage down and two people whose eyes briefly meet. What strikes the listener in this song is Ms. McGraff’s evocative phrasing, not contrived, but drawn from somewhere deep within. It is not something that is easily taught, it requires the courage to be completely in the moment and transparent.
For those who are accustomed to hearing the more traditional country styling of Tia McGraff make sure you hold on well, the cinch is tightened and your feet are firmly planted in the stirrups, because “Radical Road,” a McGraff / Parham collaboration rocks out the house with scintillating guitars courtesy of Tommy Parham, Pat Buchanan and Dan Walsh, with Spady Brannon on bass.
“Vega Star,” is a song that many in the performing arts and athletes and people in many walks of life can relate, as it talks about being so close to that dream, to being what might some people might call “a star,” and the disappointment that sets in when the dream is not realized. The song however, is not morose, instead the lyrics, “I think you are brilliant, you really knock me out. Do you know just what you are?” that stardom is not always found on the stage, but often it is found in the difference that you make in people’s lives.
Despite our comprehensive look at and listen to Diversity by Tia McGraff, we have barely scratched the surface of this collection of thirteen songs and the reader would do well to explore songs such as, the Native American (in Canada First Nations) song “Two Wolves,” with its beautiful wood flute, rattle and chants. Other songs such as “Fallen Down,” a frustrated relationship song, “Waggin’ The Dog,” a social commentary, with driving guitars and gritty vocals, the hard hitting “Cold As Steel,” in which Ms. McGraff demonstrates that she is not always about being sweet and the pretty “How Pale The Rose,” adapted from Heinrich Heine’s poem “Why Is The Rose So Pale.” The album closes out with the song “Lighthouse,” a gentle song about finding our way back home. : By Joe Montague
The songs from Tia McGraff’s album Diversity can be previewed on her website.