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Alyssa Graham

Lock, Stock & Soul

(Sunnyside; US: 2011; UK: Import)

Alyssa Graham has earned her share of critical praise over the last few years, though it’s hard to see what the fuss is all about –– Graham’s whispery voice is so soft it’s almost non-existent, and the material here (some of it written by outside hands, some by Graham with outside hands) couldn’t ignite if it were paper and all other matter in the world were a match. The black-and-white cover might give you some indication of what lies inside: It’s a fairly bland photo with a magically cliché one of Graham on the back with boots that seem incomprehensible and eyelashes that defy the imagination. You’d walk by it if you were in the record store –– like you’d be hard pressed to find one plain M&M in five thousand pounds of peanut-centered ones.


Then, there’s the material itself.


The first two tracks, “Til My Heart Quakes” and “I Know”, both penned by David Garza, are painfully forgettable, the kind of music that plays in chain clothing stores that’s just loud enough that you notice, just non-descript enough that you don’t care.


“Exploded View”, one of Graham’s co-writing credits, features lyrics that involve the noun “crankshaft”, a word that probably shouldn’t appear anywhere except in Popular Mechanics and certainly not in the context of what might be a love song (it’d even be hard to take in some clumsily macho heavy metal lyric). Graham’s take on the Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter composition “High Time” isn’t half bad but that comes down more to the writing than the actual performance.


To be fair, Graham’s own “He’s a Lover” features one of the more memorable melodies on the record and despite having a scarcity to words aside from “He’s a lover”, the tune actually has one of the better lyrics found throughout. The lullaby-like “Round & Round”, like the passive voice, is best avoided while “The Last Leaf” has some nice vocals despite typically wan words.


On “Ain’t My Kind of Boy”, Graham gets in touch with her inner attempt at soul lite and manages to do a somewhat convincing job or giving life to a somewhat lifeless backing track, while the beautiful guitar figures and melody of “I’ll Stay With You” are once more destroyed by painfully pedestrian lyrics. From there we’re left with more of the same, whether “You’re The One”, the titular tune, or the closing “Tidal Wave”. 


If you made it all the way through you might want to take a breather and contemplate what you’ve just heard or you might want to simply want to forget it all happened. The choice, as they say, is yours.


Graham isn’t without talent, and her softer-than-soft voice might work better if she weren’t handicapped by material as weak as what’s here –– For an artist who attended the New England Conservatory of Music and studied contemporary improvisation one might be led to think that she could stir up a little more spontaneity than what’s found here. Instead, we have a record that’s not just stifled creatively, it’s stifling to listen to as it doesn’t seem to have much spirit or spark. Tragically bland.

Rating:

Jedd Beaudoin is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He holds an MFA in creative writing (fiction) from Wichita State University and hosts Strange Currency six nights week for Wichita Public Radio. His writing has appeared in No Depression and The Crab Orchard Review as well as at websites such as Ytsejam.com and Amazon.com.


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Alyssa Graham - "'Til My Heart Quakes"
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