Alyssa and Doug Graham have spent nearly their entire lives exploring music together. Friends since she was seven and he was nine, they became a couple in their teens, then husband and wife. Along the way, they also became The Grahams, a dynamic Americana duo. Their 2013 debut, Riverman’s Daughter, was followed-up by riding the rails. From this they got a studio album, a documentary and a live album – in venues from Sun Studio to the City of New Orleans train. The Grahams and Friends (Live in Studio) is a collection of these songs, none of which have been previously released in the UK or Ireland.
The album opens with the bundle of energy which is ‘Glory Bound’. The lyrics tell, in theory, of regret for the things we do when we are young but the tune is the joy of youth not the downbeats of regret; the chorus is uplifting “These engines whine when the pistons sound/This train is glory bound”. Watch the video and you’ll see the threads of the album: the feisty female voice, lively Americana music, humour as well as seriousness, “Wish I hadn’t written my rebellion on my lungs”, desert, trains.
The next two tracks continue the energy and feistiness of the opener. In ‘Griggstown’ Alyssa Graham sings of pistols, horses, the dark side of town, bottles in hand. On ‘Gambling Girl’, “I might have been your girl once/But you’re never gonna be my man” and “You can’t trust a gambling girl”.
Then the album moves to a different place. ‘Lay Me Down’, ‘Tender Annabelle’, ‘Broken Bottle’, and ‘The Lonely Ones’ are gentler but still from life’s harder places “I sometimes get burned from the heat of beauty” (‘Broken Bottle’) “Keep me safe from any danger except for this/Take me out along the brink, Where I don’t need to think/Shut my eyes tender angel with a kiss” (‘Lay Me Down’). ‘Blow Wind Blow’ in particular balances the acoustic guitars with the singer’s strong voice and balances verses about family members against a chorus inspired by the line from King Lear that gives the song its title.
‘Biscuits’ is an invitation to the local boys to give up fishing so the singer can show them ‘”how the biscuits rise”. This is not a song about cooking. It has a jaunty tune, a knowing vocal, double entendres, references to Maybelline, and “I got something special cooking”.
“The dream is to play with as many great people as we can, and share the music as much as we can”, said Doug Graham. The friends working with the duo include John Fullbright, Alvin Youngblood Hart, members of the Watkins Family and the Milk Carton Kids and many more.
At the end is a version of ‘City of New Orleans’. Like the whole album, you get the sense that it was great fun to record and that the duo are finding a path to their own version of the American dream as they travel both musically and geographically. The album is released on January 27th. Enjoyable as the album is, this feels like music to see live and the release coincides with a 14-date tour to England, beginning in Sheffield on February 22nd and closing in London on March 9th.
Artist’s website: https://www.thegrahamsmusic.net/
‘Glory Bound’ – official video: