Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Grahams: “Glory Bound Deluxe Edition” (2016) Review

So many albums are released each year, and sometimes something excellent manages to escape my attention. Such was the case with The Grahams’ Glory Bound, which came out last May and which I somehow never quite got around to. Well, no matter now, because I’m getting a second chance with the release of the new Glory Bound Deluxe Edition. And let me just say this is a phenomenal recording from a remarkable band. The Grahams are the duo of Alyssa Graham and Doug Graham, and on this CD are joined by folks like Ryan Engleman, Gabe Pearson, John Fullbright, Byron Berline and Dan Walker. So, if like me, you missed out on this CD last year, make a point of checking out the deluxe edition now. You will not be disappointed. It includes five new tracks, featuring some great guest artists. But since I neglected to review this disc last year, let me start at the beginning…

Glory Bound opens with its title track, and when this song kicks in, it’s like a speeding train of country glory and joy, featuring excellent vocals delivered with strength and abandon. “Wish I never majored in caffeine and solitude/Wish I never let them see my nasty attitude/Wish I could revoke all the insults that I flung/Lord, I wish I’d never done the things I did when I was young.” And the main line is “This train is glory bound,” referring to Woody Guthrie, a very good choice of people from whom to take inspiration. By the way, if you haven’t seen Hal Ashby’s 1976 film Bound For Glory, you should check it out.

“Glory Bound” is followed by “Gambling Girl,” a bluesy country gem that lets us know “You can’t trust a gambling girl.” I love the way they belt out the lyrics; there is no holding back. These guys will burst from your speakers into your room, so don’t listen to this one through some tiny computer speaker – it demands size. Also, I love the harmonica on this track.

“Blow Wind Blow” is a powerful track that in some ways is like a classic folk song, creating a compelling character and telling a great tale, with all the sincerity of the best of the genre. But it also has something of a modern feel, obvious in lyrics like “In 2003 he left for Iraq/I still feel him placing his hand on my back.” I love these lines, which open the song: “And I look in the mirror, it’s mother I see/All the worry and pain of raising me/Don’t know how I wound up where I used to be/But I look in the mirror, mother’s looking at me.” Plus, this song has a great reference to The Tragedy Of King Lear: they sing, “Blow wind blow, crack your cheek.” The line as Lear says it in the play is “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!” (I go back and forth on this, but at the moment I’m of the mind that King Lear is the greatest work of literature, even better than Hamlet. What do you think?)

“Lay Me Down” begins with a mellow and sweet sound, which comes as a surprise after the previous track. Of course, Alyssa doesn’t completely hold back vocally, picking the moments to explode, and the moments to whisper. This is a wonderful song. “Take me out along the brink/Where I don’t need to think.” And then “Kansas City” comes on as a frantic, delicious country tune with a classic feel, and I love each moment when it pauses then kicks back in. There is some nice work on fiddle and guitar, and so much joy in this music. Grab anything within reach and spin it around the floor. Then “Mama” has a sweet country gospel feel.

“Biscuits” has kind of a cute sound right from the start, a relaxed folk vibe. This is a playful and fun tune. “If you’re tired of fishing, come on in my kitchen.” On my way! The original CD ends with a song about “Going home, going home, going home to the promised land,” which seems just about right. “Promised Land” is a wonderful tune. There is such joy and excitement in the music and especially in the vocal delivery. The energy contained on these tracks is amazing, and makes me think The Grahams must put on a damn good live performance.

And now onto the new bonus material from this deluxe edition…

The bonus tracks begin with a different version of “Glory Bound,” this one featuring Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins (from Nickel Creek), with Alyssa Graham and Sara Watkins trading verses, then singing together. “This heart may bleed, but it still gets me around.” Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. That is followed by a cover of Alejandro Escovedo’s “Broken Bottle” (a song which was included on his Gravity album). This is a gorgeous, sad tune sung with commitment and heartache. Check out these lines: “Outside is outside, that’s where I’ll be/I’ll be wrapped in the morning dew/Just to find you gone/So pour me a drink from a broken bottle/Fill my glass with the dirty water/What I’ve lost is gone/What I’ve gained has no name.”

The bonus tracks contain a different version of “Mama,” this one with David Garza and Suzanna Choffel. (By the way, David Garza produced these bonus tracks.) And hearing other folks singing lead on these tracks just makes it so apparent that these songs have a good and deserved chance of becoming traditional tunes, of having long lives outside of these particular recordings.

“Tender Annabelle” is a song not included on Glory Bound, but from the album Rattle The Hocks. This new studio version features John Fullbright, and is excellent. It has a dark, haunting vibe. The bonus tracks then conclude with “The Lonely Ones,” a tender and beautiful song featuring The Milk Carton Kids. “Goodbye, my friend/What a long, long road/Will you get back before we grow old?

Track List

Original Album
  1. Glory Bound
  2. Gambling Girl
  3. Blow Wind Blow
  4. Lay Me Down
  5. Kansas City
  6. Mama
  7. The Wild One
  8. Griggstown
  9. Biscuits
  10. Borderland
  11. The Spinner
  12. Promised Land
Bonus Tracks
  1. Glory Bound
  2. Broken Bottle
  3. Mama
  4. Tender Annabelle
  5. The Lonely Ones
Glory Bound Deluxe Edition was released digitally on March 25, 2016.

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