July 1999

Jon Dee Graham - Summerland
New West NW6006
Released: 1999

by Bruce Bassett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]From start to finish there is no mistaking that Jon Dee Graham’s music is all-American. Drawing heavily on contemporary rock, folk and blues influences, he assembles something as recognizable as a Chevy truck. Graham spent 20 years as a well-respected journeyman, honing his craft as a sideman, session-man and songwriter for others before releasing his first solo effort in 1997 (Escape From Monster Island [Freedom 1013]). This is proof of an enduring career in this industry. Enduring, however, goes much further than to just describe his career. His music has a down-to-earth honesty and simplicity that will render it as listenable and relevant 20 years from now as it is today.

Built rugged: How else could you describe the gruff, tar-and-nicotine-ravaged voice of Jon Dee Graham? But rugged can also describe the music itself. Performed with 4 x 4 grit and steely determination, Summerland deals primarily with such serious topics as failed relationships and life and death, but mostly in a good-humored, introspective way. When Graham laments that he and a love-lost didn’t take safe haven in "A Place in the Shade," or when he revels in the "Big Sweet Life" or holds hands with a pretty seņorita "At the Dance," we know he is singing from experience.

Rugged but emotional describes Graham's guitar playing. He lays down some fine blues chops in "A Place in the Shade" and "October," where the manner in which the notes are played is much more important than the notes themselves. This is the hallmark of a talented guitarist, one who aims to convey a mood rather than impress with his virtuosity.

Before I shut off the ignition on this review there are a couple of standout tracks that I have yet to mention. "Look Up" has Patti Griffin’s bluesy alto voice complimenting the harshness of Graham's magnificently, and "Black Box" is the best hard-rock tune on the disc, even if some of the lyrics are disturbingly ghastly.

For anyone who likes rugged, dependable, long-lasting American roots music, Summerland is definitely worthy of a test drive.