FolkWorld #68 03/2019
© Dai Woosnam

Tia McGraff: Stubborn In My Blood

This Canadian singer songwriter has not just made an impact in her native country: she has also toured overseas, creating a good impression here in my native Britain.

Tia McGraff

Artist Video Tia McGraff @ FROG

According to her publicity handout, this is her seventh album. Gee, I feel that I have been asleep at my sentry post, for I confess to not having heard any of her earlier CDs, and am generally unfamiliar with her oeuvre, other than hearing occasional plays of a track or two on British radio. At the back of my mind I seem to recall that doyen of British radio music presenters, Bob Harris, speaking highly of her work.

And so, with such an expert opinion as Bob’s in my thinking, I sat down to listen to this album a full three times, with a degree of anticipation.

Was that anticipation justified? Yes it was, but with some reservations on my part. More on those, later.

From the opening track, it is apparent we are in the company of a singer at the top of her game, and who has surrounded herself with some very tasty musicians, not least her life/musical partner (and co-writer) Tommy Parham. The songs are well crafted, the lyrics blessedly never seek to obfuscate, and thus the meaning is never so veiled that you have to lie down in a darkened room to work out what she means. Thank the Lord for that: I have had my fill of songwriters who seek in vain for a rhyming line ending that will make sense, and end up reaching for another word that blunts or sometimes actually confuses the message.

The first 4 songs made a favourable impression: more of a Country feel to them, than any other genre, I would say. This was particularly marked with her Nashville-penned song Travelin’ By Guitar, where the McGraff/Parham writing team were joined by Nashville hit writer Wood Newton, and multi Grammy award winner, Cindy Cashdollar on Dobro.

But it was the fifth track (again with a hit Nashville co-writer, this time Devon O’Day) that really made this album come alight for me. Let ‘Em See Your Strong is a power ballad that has apparently been embraced by the #Me Too movement. It certainly is a gutsy number: and one of its effects was to silence the pedant in me.

[Eh? I can imagine you dear readers, wondering what exactly it is I am on about...!! Let me explain.]

Tia McGraff: Stubborn In My Blood

Tia McGraff "Stubborn In My Blood", Bandana, 2018

You see, when I first looked at the CD back cover, I immediately tut-tutted at what I took to be a typo. Surely, I thought, they mean “you’re” strong, not “your” strong? They should learn to proof-read their finished article...!!

Guess who had egg on his face? Me, of course...because it is a plea (nay, a command) for people to let them see “your strong” side and “your light” that burns inside. Thus, “your strong” is not a typo at all. And all in all, it’s a most powerful - potentially anthemic - song (which explains the somewhat unusual cover photo of Tia in boxing gloves).

It is not the clear standout song of the album though, having been pushed into second place (albeit in a photo-finish) by Here With Me Tonight: a very poignant song in honour of someone in the final stages of cancer. On this track, we again hear Dobro playing that is worthy of high praise (this time, it is Wanda Burchfield who excels). Touching vocal harmony from Tommy here: indeed, his vocal assists are never less than persuasive throughout the whole album. An album that never failed to hold my interest.

And the reservations I mentioned earlier? Well ...I guess they have almost melted away, like the snow outside my window, as I have been writing these plus points this past half hour...!! But I guess if you were to push me, my feelings are, that taken as a whole, all the songs are very worthy, but with the exception of the two last-mentioned, they are probably not quite at the same level of excellence as that achieved by the delivery in performance by Tia and her cohorts.

And a final plea: with such a fine website as she has, it’s a pity that Tia does not go the extra step (that so many artistes now do) of laying out all the lyrics of her songs. Oh for sure her diction is great: but it sure is nice to be able to see the whole song lyric displayed in front of one’s eyes. Somehow then, we can grasp the meaning and subtleties of the song, that much better.

But hey, let me breathe these reservations back in. In truth, this album is well worth the punters’ shilling.

Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Tia McGraff (unknown/website).

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