Jon Dee Graham

Hooray for the Moon (New West)

It makes perfect sense that Graham's best-known band was dubbed the True Believers. After all, he's a songwriter and performer whose affection for genuinely American music -- you know, the craggy, rough-hewn stuff that's heard too seldom these days -- is simple and pure. But he also sports an obstinate streak that's as wide as Mr. Creosote seconds before ingesting that last wafer-thin mint. Since time immemorial, reviewers have described Graham's voice as being reminiscent of Tom Waits's, thereby displaying a lack of imagination that's surely irritated the man himself a little bit more with each passing year. But rather than dodging these comparisons by, say, performing each tune on Hooray for the Moon in falsetto, Graham includes a cover of the Waits chestnut "Way Down in the Hole" on which he sounds more Tom-like than ever. Guess he noticed the resemblance, too -- and he doesn't give a damn.

Fortunately, Hooray is about more than choking critics on their own words. The disc finds Graham and a crack band -- busy Austin guitarist Michael Hardwick, onetime Spirit bassist Mark Andes and longtime session superstar Jim Keltner on drums -- in fine form. They're ably assisted by several inspired guests: Cracker's Davey Faragher and organist Mike Campbell, of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, turn up here and there, and Tejano purveyor Little Joe adds just the right touch of exuberance to the alternately mournful and energetic "Volver." Moreover, the production, by Don Smith, keeps things simple and raw, allowing the tunes to slice sharply through the speakers, whether they're hard and heavy, like "Laredo (Small Dark Something)," or delicate and watchful, such as "Something Moves."

Better yet, Graham's songs are consistently surprising. The title of "The Restraining Order Song" suggests something either jokey or boisterous, but Graham's melody is reflective and poignant, and his lyrics are infused with need and guilt ("Your bedroom light is on/Casting shadows on the lawn/Someone at the window/Then they're gone"). Likewise, "Tamale House #1" manages to find the promise of a bright future ("The sun was on our left/And the rest of our lives were right in front of us") in the unlikeliest of locales.

Music this strong is capable of making a believer out of anyone.

 
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