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Richard McGraw - Song and Void Volume 1 Review

by Patrick Muldowney

Being a 5-smile virgin I made Song and Void date me the past month before sitting down to write, and given the religiosity of some of his songs, Richard McGraw might suggest I wait until marrying his disc, but I have cautiously loose morals. So this is my big night, and sadly I am not looking my best. Not to mention the candles that weren't working because the computer screen is too bright. Lily, my dog, also looks terribly enthusiastic as she tries to sleep behind me during this anticlimactic moment, but really the moment is not mine, I'm just a visitor to the beauty of Richard McGraw, and happy to be there.

We are nearly halfway through 2006, and Song and Void is the best album to be released. In fact, I guarantee that if this same album was the product of Tom Waits or Bright Eyes (this matches their better work), it would be on display in every independent record store and charting on college radio, but to this point Richard McGraw is a victim of obscurity, releasing his own music when his funds allow. Impressively, the disc does not suffer from its extreme independence, showing a high degree of quality even prior to play. The design is antiquated with raised etching on the corners of the cover, and a turn of the century illustration of a man with R. McGraw in a classic banner underneath. Inside the cover there is space to attach your own picture and write your name, essentially marking your property, which means I would have even loved this album at age 7, when I embraced any chance to label possessions. The recording is as professional as a commercial label also, although the first note on the insert confesses that most of the album was recorded in one or two takes during a recording session one weekend. Song and Void proves that it is possible to make a top album without industry backing.

A particularly great track from Richard McGraw is "The Masses and The Craftsmen", which seems to have some autobiographical fears involved lyrically. This simply beautiful two-minute song, which is stripped down to acoustic guitar, drums, and vocals, talks about the plight of wanting to be a rock star. The narrator is this parental, or god-like figure, who reminds the dreamer that if you lose, you'll "find yourself there (in mom's basement) long-haired, 45, and still rockin out the county fair." In an interview, Richard McGraw referred to this fear, so it seems to be a motif for him. Another song, "St. Anthony" is similar in length and musical feel, although the backing vocals are more melancholic coming from the Sisters of Mercy. This is fitting because "St. Anthony" looks back at childhood alienation rather than adult failure. These are two of the gentler songs on the album, almost guaranteed to have any singer, or pretender, singing along with the perfect harmonies.

Richard McGraw also has a more unbridled side to his spirit, which is evident in songs like "Natasha in High School" and "Death is Not Peace". These songs pick up the tempo, volume, and full band sound a bit. "Natasha" is the most lighthearted song on the album, and the most obvious single, sounding a bit like Ben Folds, although I hear Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music) in the vocals periodically. From the lyrics, you can picture this married man trying to recapture old high school glory, remembering the day he took Natasha's virginity. The story is told so well, with images like, "Then there was the kitchen pantries, panties, flowered lovely for me." This is where the magic of Song and Void is clearly found, in that there is such honesty and clarity to the words and the melody, the narratives never border on perverse or vulgar, no matter the subject. In this way, I would say Richard McGraw is most comparable to David Barzan as a lyricist. "Death is Not Peace", with its distortion and emotional delivery, could be easily transposed onto a Bright Eyes album.

During a time when religion in our country is threatened by its failure to adapt to our changing society, it is interesting to hear artists like Richard McGraw, Ben Gibbard, David Barzan, and Conor Oberst, include religion consistently in their lyrics. In no way would Christian Rock, as a genre, welcome these writers as devout Christians, but I think they express spirituality in a truer form than I have generally heard during a sermon, and that is what appeals to Christians and Non-Christians alike. I would not ask someone how religious they were, and what religion, prior to recommending Song and Void because I don't think it would make a difference. There is humanity, and a spirit to Richard McGraw, which helps his music transcend personal differences, making it worthwhile to music fans of all backgrounds. This is why Song and Void is an incredible album, worthy of the highest rating possible.

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Richard McGraw - Song and Void Volume 1


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