Richard McGraw
"Song and Void, Volume 1"

(Non-Utopian Records 2006)Richard McGraw - Song and Void, Volume 1

According to a reviewer's commentary on Amazon.com, with Richard McGraw, we are dealing with an ordained minister, which explains the obvious religious references built into several songs. His style overall has that usual -- by now basically a patent of its own -- gospel tinged confessional stance. Comparisons have been made to Leonard Cohen, who is also known for drawing from religion, both conventional and unconventional, to make spiritually informed soul searching ruminations on being human and experiencing life in all its glory, bitterness, with all the love and the hate.

This collection of almost immaculately produced folk and country songs is an ambiguous offering, to say the least. There's a certain brooding and reflective quality to the work that could affect you either for the good or the bad. "Butter Hill" announces the basic thematic elements of the entire album. We're talking about a guy looking back on his years with a sense of fulfillment, reaching a spiritual catharsis, which is rather surprising given the usual tirade against religion in modern alternative musical circles. Then there's "Natasha in High School", which sounds like a description of a former romantic relationship from times vividly recalled using detailed imagery. At least this number has a little bit more of a melodic stretch, given the labored and tired sounding tune previous to it. It also has a refreshingly bouncy piano part, supported by some delicate organ parts coming in as the song progresses and eventually finishes.

It's probably a good idea to be aware that McGraw's vocals are a bit hit or miss. He sounds like he's whining a little in parts, kind of squelching in a way that borders on phrasing a little out of tune. In "Find Me Then," he seriously sounds like he's about to burst into tears in a way that is not exactly touching and which might strike you as embarrassing while "St. Anthony" is a rather nice religious ballad.

Much of the rest is so overwhelmed with accordions and a slow rhythmic pace that its value may be lost on you. There certainly isn't anything original or unique in any of the compositions. That's not to say that it doesn't have its charms. The least that can be said for it is that it's certainly sincere, and though it scores points for not exactly being mainstream, that doesn't automatically make it brilliant. There isn't really enough musical variety from song to song to make any of the performances sound distinct.

You probably won't find yourself thinking that you really want to hear a certain song again and again. The material really does blend together so that you can always count on the usual country pop shtick, with plenty of accordions, organs, acoustic guitars and light piano touches to give you the impression that whatever band this guy has behind him aren't too keen on imagination. Though McGraw certainly tries with this offering, he doesn't really succeed in getting you to feel interested in him. None of the songwriting leaps off the album in the way that a Leonard Cohen collection would. The album isn't a complete failure but it's not going to impress anyone.

C-

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