Liz Graham loves to tour. As a beloved folk performer in the New York tri state area, she has played hundreds of shows over her career, however until this year she had only ever recorded one solo album. Her 1998 self-titled folk album won many awards, and she has been touring for almost 17 years off the back of it, but Graham’s new album, Colorful and Piercing will be only her second. The first single from this eagerly anticipated album, due out in April, is called Charcoal on a Canvas and was released on the Liz Graham Soundcloud and Bandcamp pages in January.
Liz Graham found poetry as a medium for her thoughts at a very early age. She cites a book of children’s poems by Robert Louis Stevenson as her first poetic inspiration, and wrote verses for many years before music came into the mix. So much is the importance of lyrics to Graham that on her website, many of the poems which make up the songs from her first album are published in their own section.
Liz Graham began playing shows in coffeehouses and bars in 1994, and by 1996 she and her band Tracking Buddha gained recognition by being chosen to perform in the Ticketmaster Music Showcase. Between 1996 and 1999, Graham won several ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) awards, found her album in the top 10 in the CMJ, Women’s Radio, Japan and UK charts and performed at Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair.
Between 1999 and 2013, Liz Graham appeared as a regular on many radio programs and worked as a composer on the soundtracks of short films. She also co-wrote and performed the song Daylight, which featured in the Dreamworks film The Fifth Estate. During all this Liz Graham never gave up her beloved intimate venue tours. In 2014 Graham decided to return to the studio with her own music and record Colorful and Piercing. With Charcoal on a Canvas as the lead track, it would appear the folk singer is testing out new territory, with mixed results.
Liz Graham’s style on her first album was very classic folk. She has a well-trained, operatic voice similar to that of folk legend Joni Mitchell, and the song arrangements on her debut were complex for such a simple genre, and very upbeat. Though songs on the first album featured little more than her own voice and guitar, Graham’s tunes were full and nuanced, with many different styles appearing around her solid folk base.
With Charcoal on a Canvas and many of the other tracks on Colorful and Piercing, Graham seems to be attempting to stretch out of her comfort zone and into some heretofore uncharted territory. This album features not only Liz Graham and her guitar but a gallery of accompanying musicians, sometimes creating their own melodies and sub-melodies around each song’s core structure. The single seems a little disjointed between vocals and backing track, as if the styles do not quite match. Graham’s flowing, classic folk voice seems to clash a bit with the adult contemporary style of the instrumentals, where previously Graham had been masterful at combining genres to fit her style.
Whether it be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen or Graham trying to experiment a bit, some of the tracks on the Colorful and Piercing like Charcoal on a Canvas seem a bit confused. A few tracks, such as Damaged and Pulling Under are shining examples of the genuine talent in Liz Graham, and definitely worth downloading once the full album is released. These tracks are a sure sign that Graham will find her footing once again in future endeavors, and that she is more than likely simply stretching her boundaries with some of the songs on the album which fall a bit flat. In the meantime, the folk music community hopes it will not be another 17 years before her third album is released.
Lyrics, tour dates and streams of Liz Graham’s first album and Charcoal on a Canvas can be found on her website, along with links to her Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages. Many videos of her live performances are available on YouTube, and clips of the forthcoming album can also be found in the “Sources” list below.
Review by Layla Klamt