the-grahams-scrollerIt’s a bit of a thing at the moment, the ‘live in the studio’ album, and why not? If you’re good enough and the engineer’s good enough, you’ll have the satisfaction of creating something the way we did in the good old days before that pesky Les Paul invented multi-track recording. And with a bit of luck it might capture a bit of magic that would be lost in a song built up part by part. The Grahams have taken a slightly different direction with the concept; they’ve taken a bunch of songs from their “Glory Bound” album/“Rattle the Hocks” film project and re-recorded them in the studio with some friends, taking the opportunity to rearrange and rework the songs (sometimes more than once). And those friends: well, John Fullbright, North Mississippi Allstars, Alvin Youngblood Hart and David Garza are a pretty good start.

The songs from this collection have already featured on two US albums by The Grahams, but none have been released in the UK in these versions, and I hope you all got that, because I’m not repeating it. Does the idea work? Well, mostly. “Glory Bound” is the obvious opener for the album, introducing the theme of the railroad with its ‘clickety-clack of the train on the tracks’ rhythm, stripped-back acoustic guitar, bass and drums arrangement and harmonies imitating a train whistle. Most of the original “Glory Bound” songs are reworked on this album, with the notable exception of “The Wild One” (for my money the best song on the album) and the gradual build-up of the beautiful ballad “Lay Down” to a massed choir ending, the gospel treatment of “Mama” and the counterpoint vocals at the end of “Blow Wind Blow” are all particularly effective.

The supernatural ballad “Tender Annabelle” comes in a couple of different flavours, first with a mournful, menacing harmonica, electric piano and heavily-reverbed backing vocals, then with New Orleans horns to close the album. There’s a lot to be said for each treatment, although the first appearance of the horns on the rollicking “Kansas City” seems to lack a bit of punch.

Minor quibbles aside, this is an album that’s worth listening to whether you’ve heard “Glory Bound” or not. The songs are powerful however you arrange them, and the live recording process catches some genuine moments of magic.

“The Grahams and Friends (Live in Studio)” is released in the UK on Three Sirens Music Group on Friday January 27th 2017.


The next big thank you is to The Grahams, Alyssa and Doug, who released the wonderful “Glory Bound” album this year and toured the UK to support the album. Here are some of their suggestions for little escapes while you’re on the road in the UK.

Top 5 Romantic Escapes From ‘The Rest Of The Band’ While On Tour In UK:

Touring is what we do.  Playing music together and with other likeminded musicians is our way of life.  However, sometimes as lovers we need an escape from ‘the rest of the band!’  This is not just a list for musicians (though many artists may find it helpful while on tour in the UK).  Lovers, musicians, tourists and wandering bards alike, we all need to get the f*ck away from our ‘mates’ sometimes.

SW Coast PathHike The South West Coast Path:

Originally created by coastguard, patrolling the south west peninsula looking out for smugglers, this trail is the walk of a lifetime.  It doesn’t get more romantic or adventurous and it will feed your soul and clear your mind.  You can walk 630 miles of unparalleled coastline making up the longest national trail in the UK.  The wildlife, geology and scenery are breathtaking and inspiration abounds.  The path starts at Minehead in Somerset and runs along the coastline into Cornwall and continues into Devon ending at Poole Harbour.  Spend a few miles or a few days releasing your soul and getting back to zero.  It will help the music, the friendships and the rest of the tour!

ChocolateVisit The Chocolate Shops of Shrewsbury:

All over the UK, if you keep your eyes open you can find handmade, gourmet chocolates galore.  Chocolate is a way to tame the savage beast and the cranky musician!  Shrewsbury has a few great chocolate stops.  You’ll leave smiling ear to ear and a few pounds heavier but it’s worth it!  The Chocolate Gourmet is a great first stop.  Grab a variety of locally made and exotic goodness.  We gravitate towards the dark chocolate and left with some J. James Chocolate Firecrackers, Willie’s Cacao and Marou Friseurs De Chocolat. YUMMY!  For a real chocolate treat head over to the Shrewsbury Market and visit Ms. Melanie Fallon at BonBonniere.  Her chocolate treats are all handmade and to die for!  She was also named the Diamond Award winner in the Heart of England Foods Awards.  Her chocolates will enhance your mood and make any touring a sweet delight!

BBelfastelfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House:

What better way to find romance (and serenity) than wandering about the extensive rose gardens at Belfast’s Botanic Gardens.  Established in 1828, these gardens are an important part of Belfast’s Victorian heritage.  Visit the Palm House and the Tropical Ravine and lose yourself in the intoxicating scents of tropical plants, seasonal flowers and birds of paradise.  This stop is sure to open your senses and clear your head.  Just make sure to tell your lover NOT to pick a rose for you!

River_Cottage_Jemma Moran

Photo by Jemma Moran

River Cottage Farmhouse Lunch:

Sometimes you don’t have to go far to escape your bandmates and grab some romance with your better half.  On this tour to the UK we had the great privilege to perform at the famed River Cottage, home of award-winning chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  For an extra special and incredibly romantic afternoon hit the River Cottage Farmhouse Lunch.  It’s a beautiful way to experience amazing food and take in the serene rural surroundings.  Everything is locally sourced and you can taste the absolute passion in the preparation of these creative and unforgettable dishes.  It’s just like a great country song… simple.  Three chords and the truth.

theconvent2[1]The Convent:

Ok, not the first place you would think of for a romantic getaway but let me tell you… this place is a dream destination.  Tucked away in The Cotswolds, this is a restored 18th century masterpiece set on 22 acres of gardens.  Forget the spectacular architecture, the unique and superb dinning, the world class music performances set in a beautiful Chapel and the unmatched ghost stories told by the charismatic and charming owners.  It’s all about the tub!!  Spend a night with your sweetheart in the free-standing tub and all your road cares will wash away.  It’s truly a “religious” experience. 😉

Alyssa Graham TitleSo, what happens when you get to The 100 Club just as the doors open for a private event on a Sunday evening? Well, the obvious answer is, not a lot, so plenty of time to check out how the stage set-up looks and work out the best photo angles for later. When that’s done, there are still only four people in the place, so what next? Right, ask the sound engineer about the programme for the night; apparently The Grahams (the band I’ve come to see) are going on at 9:30. Is there a support band, don’t know mate. Oh well, time for another bottle of lager then.

Then, out of nowhere, the door opens and what is unmistakably a bunch of musicians walks in; the instrument cases are always a giveaway. After about half an hour of intensive roadying and oneing and twoing, we have ignition. None of this leaving the stage and coming back to make an entrance; a quick line check on the vocal mics and its 1-2-3-4.

Surprisingly, after all the last minute preparation, The Orange Circus Band was pretty good, playing hillbilly Americana with a constantly changing instrumental line-up featuring bass, acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle and featuring a bit of the almost obligatory Woody Guthrie. They finished with the lovely four-part harmonies of the gospel song “I’ll Fly Away” and everyone was happy, but I can’t help wondering how much better they could have sounded, with a full-on soundcheck.

No such problems for The Grahams; they soundchecked before the venue opened and blasted straight into the set with “Griggstown” from the new album, “Glory Bound”. Although Doug and Alyssa Graham’s second album was released this week in the UK, this gig was about the short documentary, “Rattle the Hocks”, made at the same time, about the influence of the railways on the growth of Americana music, which is showing at Raindance Film Festival. Although the album versions of the songs feature full band arrangements, the songs are so good that they all work with two guitars, two voices and a bit of percussion. The set featured mainly material from “Glory Bound” including “Kansas City”, the folky and personal “Blow Wind Blow”, the album’s closing song, “The Promised Land”, “Tender Annabelle” from the bonus tracks and the double entendre-laden “Biscuits”. All of those were delivered with style and panache, but there were also a few very special moments.

About halfway through the set, the first highlight was the gospel-tinged and deeply personal “Mama”, which was the first really emotional moment, followed fairly quickly by “The Wild One”, which is a standout track from the album. It’s a tragic coming-of-age story with a huge uplifting chorus and it’s a single if I ever heard one. It’s gorgeous. “Lay Me Down” was another album high point which translated perfectly to a more stripped-down format and had Alyssa shifting from her pure and clear country tones to something much more like Alanis Morissette or eighties Marianne Faithfull. Which just left “Glory Bound”, inspired by Woody Guthrie’s “The Farmer-Labor Train” as the unplugged encore and a final lovely moment.

Seeing The Grahams live was quite an experience. Doug and Alyssa built a warm rapport with the audience by talking about the film, the album and their relationship, emphasised by their obvious onstage chemistry. The songs are intensely personal and are delivered with passion, power and beautiful harmonies; by the end of a gig, you’ll feel elated but wrung-out. If you missed this one you can catch them on their UK tour in November.

The Grahams - 'Glory Bound' - TitleMaybe this is a reappraisal that’s long overdue. We live in a society that’s so dominated by the car and its implications of individualism that we now have a long tradition of road and car songs and there’s even a drive-time genre. The railroads in the USA, which featured so heavily in popular culture during the nineteenth century have now been largely replaced by the highways. That is, until Americana duo The Grahams (Alyssa and Doug) decided to ride the rails and re-evaluate the role played by the network in stitching together the tapestry of American music. The time they spent on this project led not only to their second album, the marvellously eclectic “Glory Bound”, but also a documentary film, “Rattle the Hocks”, which is featured at the UK 2015 Raindance film festival.

The album opens with the title track, easing in with acoustic guitar before a ridiculously catchy guitar hook comes in to drive the song forward (along with a huge backbeat in the chorus) with a train-evoking rhythm, which is then followed by the equally raucous Southern boogie shuffle of “Gambling Girl”. Both songs feature Alyssa’s rock voice, but as the album progresses it becomes clear that she can work in a whole range of vocal styles, from the raw emotion in the chorus of “Lay Me Down” to the high, clear flute-like tones of “The Spinner”; it’s quite a set of vocal performances. There’s a wide variety of Americana styles from the folk song feel of the elegaic “Blow Wind Blow” to the bluegrass-styled “Kansas City”, which is short, sharp and sweet but packs everything in including sparkling guitar and fiddle solos and the simple spiritual sound of “Mama”.

The big backbeat reasserts itself on “Griggstown” and the closing song “The Promised Land”, driving the first song on to its destination and the second on a seemingly futile quest while “Biscuits” has a honky-tonk feel and a nice line in double entendre lyrics; all good clean fun. Which leaves “The Wild One”; it’s placed right in the centre of the album and this has to be the single, lead track or whatever radio’s calling it this week. From the moment the organ kicks in you know this is pure musical gold (with a nod in the direction of The Band) as the arrangement complements the tragic but ultimately uplifting story which unfolds. Everything about the structure of the song helps to emphasise the message, including a chorus which is absolutely irresistible; there’s even a “Running on Empty” reference in the first line, unless it’s a huge coincidence. There’s nothing about this song that you would ever want to change.

“Glory Bound” is a great album and it’s made for people who actually want to listen to albums. It has a theme, it starts and finishes on railroad songs, visits places with railroad connections and places an absolute gem of a song right in the centre of the collection. This is one train you really don’t want to miss.

Out on Friday October 2 on 12South Records (GRAM003).