Tia McGraff – Stubborn in My Blood
Stubborn in My Blood is the latest album from Canadian born singer/songwriter Tia McGraff and her longtime musical and life partner Tommy Parham. They’ve worked together for years on both studio recordings and in concert – their chemistry is every bit as palpable here as it has been with their previous efforts. The eleven songs included on Stubborn in My Blood are, invariably, cast in an Americana frame, but there are no lengthy ballads here or attempts at outright aping traditional music. Instead, Stubborn in My Blood adopts recognizable pop structures for many of the songs and this unique mainstreaming of the form never gives up any of its sincerity or substance. Instead, the songs on Stubborn in My Blood sound like McGraff and Parham are taking the style and using it as a means to explore their own art. The results are memorable.
“Pilot of Change” marries singer/songwriter depth with a layered and musically astute arrangement. Both the song’s bridge and chorus are key moments for the song when the listeners patience is rewarded with richly climatic moments while the playing is spot on throughout. None of the songs on Stubborn in My Blood overstay their welcome with self indulgence and/or gratuitous instrumental passages and “Pilot of Change” stands out as among the most focused tracks on the release. “Hole in Your Heart” is one of the most affecting numbers of the eleven on this recording and McGraff seems to sense this from the first as she exerts great sensitivity to get the vocal for this one just right. The imagery behind the song title is familiar, but McGraff’s lyrical acumen frames it in a distinct way that seems signature to her personality and artistic aims. One of the album’s centerpiece tracks, “Strong” turns to piano instead of guitar and banjo to carry the day musically and it inspires McGraff to push herself vocally in a way she never does before or after on Stubborn in My Blood.
“One Tin Solider”, a cover of a popular late sixties/early seventies folk rock classic, gets a full band treatment here and the drumming, in particular, gives the song a sense of urgency it might have otherwise lacked. McGraff, to her credit, treats this song as she wrote it herself and invests considerable theatrical flair in her delivery without ever coming off overwrought. “Here With Me Tonight” returns listeners to the quiet, stripped down intimacy of the earlier material and McGraff responds with a emotive, evocatively turned vocal that shows what true phrasing talent can accomplish for a song. “The Faithful Ones”, near the album’s end, ranks among the best songs on the release thanks to its lightly exhortative quality and the skillful incorporation of religious tropes, traditional imagery and language into the final result. McGraff’s vocal for this is full of deep longing, far outstripping efforts about lost or complicated love, and emphasizes its meaning in graceful fashion. Stubborn in My Blood is Tia McGraff’s finest release yet and illustrates how this impressively talented artist has yet to reach her peak.