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Jon Dee Graham

The Great Battle – 2004 (New West)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Jon Dee Graham

If Tom Waits had forsaken his role as L.A.'s art rock poet laureate and opted for a move to Austin to explore his jangly inner roots rock voodoo child, Jon Dee Graham would have some serious competition in the market. As it is, Graham has taken his long Americana journeyman status (the Skunks, True Believers, sideman for Kelly Willis, John Doe and countless others) and turned it into a stunningly singular solo career over the past seven years and three raggedly wonderful albums.

With his fourth solo release, Graham shows off his broad sonic spectrum, from the country/blues creak of "E. 11th Street" to the rootsy electric gospel burn of "Lonesome Valley" to the mournful folk elegy of "The Change" to the Pettyesque jangle and roar of "Twilight." Texas guitar sensation Charlie Sexton accompanies and produces Graham's song cycle on the confounding and painful nature of love (from the title cut: "Good things will happen/bad things will happen/and very often I won't know the difference at all"), made all the more poignant with Graham's edgy spin on Neil Young's "Harvest."

Graham takes familiar musical forms (country/blues/folk/rock) and a well worn lyrical subject (busted love) and injects this with the straining passion that has marked every one of his dented and brilliant albums to date.