Wayne Graham “Joy” (K&F Records, 2018)

This album, which falls on the country rock side of Americana, is darn near irresistible. First things first: Wayne Graham is not a person – it’s the name of a four-piece band from Kentucky led by two brothers, Kenny and Hayden Miles. By and large, the music on these 12 tracks is driven by a propulsive back beat. But it diverts into folk and even a touch of jazz, making it, in the mind of this reviewer, true Americana – music that draws on diverse American musical traditions.

The opener, ‘On My Throne,’  has – in addition to the strong backbeat – a bluesy guitar solo. As with a number of tracks on this album, it’s not entirely clear what this song is about. “Hypnotized by your eyes/If I was a dead man/I wouldn’t be surprised/On My Throne/ Don’t you want to come and join me on my throne?” the lyrics go. Perhaps the meaning grows clear on repeated listens.

The album’s 12 tracks feature pleasing diversity. The overall tone is a tad melancholy, but the title track – ‘Joy’ – is, fittingly, less so. ‘White Rose’ features a jaunty country beat that gets the listener’s feet tapping. It, too, features a strong backbeat, along with ethereal backing vocals and lovely emotive, yet understated, guitar.

The words to these songs are not always easy to make out, making the meanings all the more obscure. Some lines are easy to understand, but the following line less so. Fortunately, for the reviewer, the mournful song ‘Bloody Montana’ is posted on YouTube complete with lyrics.

“It isn’t supposed to make you this angry at me,” the lyrics say. “If I would have known you would ruin everything/ And everyone’s asking how did I draw the short straw/And feeling defeated I start singing anything/Bloody Montana, praying for snow, so I can see the tracks from where I’ve been to where I go/Bloody Montana, hope I’m not too long, ’cause I’ve never sung such a meaningless song.”

Given that it’s a meaningless song – though that is probably a facetious comment– it’s unclear exactly how much we’re missing when the lyrics are lost in the mix. (The official video – somewhat inexplicably – features a raccoon foraging through trash.)

Throughout, however, the music is excellent – and diverse. ‘My Tomb’ features deft fingerpicking and, from the sound of it, a snare drum. “Skin on the rocks, house on the dune/ this was once my home, and now it is my tomb,” the lyrics say. By contrast, ‘Toyman’ is a guitar instrumental with jazz flavourings. (As with most jazz instrumentals, the reason for the title remains obscure.)

But what is clear is that this album is the work of skilled and inventive musicians – artists who know how to grab your attention and hold it. A fine effort indeed.

Wayne Graham delivers compelling album of diverse and atmospheric americana
  • - 8/10

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