Tia McGraff, |
Day in My Shoes
(Busted Flat, 2007)
Tia McGraff is one of those singer-songwriters who has been waiting in the wings to be propelled into the big time for a while now. Everyone predicts big things for her. Randy Bachman says "it's just a matter of time until that magic moment when everyone agrees it's Tia's time" and Folk & Roots magazine says we should all get out and see her now because it won't be long until she moves out of the small venues and we'll have to catch her in the sheds or arenas.
When I first listened to Day in My Shoes, I thought all the critics and fans who predicted great things for her were, maybe just a little, in exaggeration mode. After several hearings, though, I'm not so sure. With luck, promotion and heavy touring, this could be the CD that puts her over the top.
McGraff's talent is not in question. She's a fabulous singer with great control and a soulful quality to her alto voice. She's got a way of getting inside a song; she can especially take your breath away with a ballad. "Oughta Be Rock" by itself makes this album essential. She and her co-producer/husband, Tommy Parham, know how to dress a song; the arrangements are, for the most part, suited to each individual song; they give each track what it needs and no more.
Probably by now you can sense that a quibble or two is coming. If I have a problem with the album it is that McGraff's stated goal for the record restricts its lyrics: she says that she wants listeners to "find themselves uplifted, inspired and feeling a greater sense of purpose. If we are in a place of love, that's all God wants -- and that's all there is -- there's nothing else."
That purpose leads her to write too many positive lyrics, words designed to inspire instead of shedding light on the human condition. Too many of her songs avoid going into the dark and, to my mind, trying to show someone the light without acknowledging the dark leads to superficial statements. In her best work, like the aforementioned, "Rock by Now," McGraff shows us the yin and yang of modern life, its downside as well as its upside.
I'd like to see a little more of that complexity. I know she and co-writer Parham recognize it; they just chose not to explore it. I believe they'd have had a stronger work of art if they hadn't made that particular choice.
Michael Scott Cain
25 August 2007