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Jon Dee Graham

Garage Sale – 2012 (Freedom)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Jon Dee Graham

The only thing Jon Dee Graham hasn't accomplished in the course of his long and storied career is to become the multi-platinum household name he deserves to be. Of course, it's a safe bet that he's never really aspired to that level of success, seeing as how he's managed to string together an impressive band resume (the Skunks, the True Believers) and a stellar solo discography while still cruising under the radar to all but a cultishly focused few.

For "Garage Sale," his first new album in three years, Graham strings together 11 varied tracks covering the broad range of his Americana foundation and comes up with his most expansive and reflective album to date. The album was born when friends John Harvey and Mary Podio gifted Graham one day a month in their Tophat studio in Austin, allowing him the luxury of creating songs without worrying about the bill at the end of the sessions. Despite the title, "Garage Sale" is no odds-and-sods collection of unwanted leftovers from past projects; these are tracks that show Graham at the peak of his songwriting powers.

With a growl approaching Tom Waitsian proportions, Graham invests "Garage Sale" with an expansive intimacy that hints at Waits' earliest works, particularly on the piano balladry of Bobby Dunbar, where you can almost hear the studio breathe. Just Like That finds Graham lamenting about the passage of time over a soundtrack that could be a T Bone Burnett outtake, while Collapse bristles with an atmospheric melancholy reminiscent of Chris Whitley's visceral electric wizardry. On Oh Dearest One (Revisited), a folk hymn that sounds like it could have been lifted from a 78 at the turn of the last century, Graham self-deprecatingly croaks out, "Oh dearest one, I do here confess, I am the architect of this brilliant mess/I swear now to you I did my best, but I guess/That my best is still not very good." On the contrary, Jon Dee Graham's best is all over "Garage Sale," and it is very good indeed.