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Hoarse vocals delivering 12 mid-tempo or slow, contemplative songs with well-trodden folk-rock structures usually earn a quick "No" from this quarter. McGraw grapples with grand topics: the death of a loved one and/or the Meaning of Life (capitals intended: one envisions Bertie Wooster throwing-away "STERN stuff, Jeeves"). When McGraw waxes emphatic without engaging music, I'm checking my Facebook. The more laidback material is like a spontaneous diary: poetic imagery being croaked into a microphone + the bright percussion of banjo or finger-picked guitar gurgling like a brook.

Haunting enough to segue with Tom Waits is a cover of Leonard Cohen's "The Faith": "The cross on every hill/ A star, a minaret/ So many graves to fill/ Love, aren't you tired yet?" "Young Men" is the one I'm least likely to want to live without: it's the kind of nice that Gordon Lightfoot would probably have welcomed into his repertoire. But I doubt Lightfoot ever spouted a line this dazzling: "Wounds are like diamonds or demons at play." And McGraw does an ingenious reworking of Billy Joel's "My Life."

I guess we'll never hear McGraw covering "Take the Skinheads Bowling." Still, how many artists are willing to go into such deep territory, let alone set up a tent and camping stove?

  • Album: Burying the Dead (2010)
  • Artist: Richard McGraw
  • Label: Non-Utopian Records
  • Songs: (1) That Old Song (2) My Life (3) Hurting Heart (4) Balmville Motel (5) Your Lover (6) On Our Knees (7) Asheville (8) I'm Cool (9) The Faith (10) Young Men (11) Her Town (12) Grace
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