Jon Dee Graham

Escape from Monster Island (Freedom)

There's a lot to be said for the self-discipline of a musician like Jon Dee Graham, who waited nearly 20 years to release his first solo album. The most obvious point is that a lifetime of experience will be poured into such an effort, but then Graham's lived more than a few lifetimes. Punk guitarist, New Sincerity rocker, sideman, session man, and songwriter, Graham's Escape from Monster Island is the 10-song destination from all those roads, rendered through Graham's words, played out in tender verses, and sung in his tobacco-battered voice. Out there on Monster Island, life is for contemplation, though the album is clearly "inspired by and dedicated to" Graham's son; "Soonday" gently invites the listener to "Come to Roy's house" and it's hard to turn down its guileless invitation, especially when he pleads "Don't grow up so goddamn fast/wait a little while for me to get home..." Nearly every aspect of this album, from the song titles to the booklet design, is rife with double meaning, and that's the way Graham intends it: The back of the CD pictures father and son; remove the CD and inside the jewel box is a graphic of the Graham clan motto and tartan. The wisdom of two decades is evident at every turn, as Graham has one foot planted firmly in the future and one in the past: "Be careful what you write, you have to read it all someday." From the Tom Waitsean charm of "$100 Bill" to the elastic rhythm of "Big Canal," that's what makes Jon Dee Graham's songs such a pleasure. It's like stumbling on a well-worn path, reaching down to pick up the rough, unassuming stone that tripped you up, and cracking it open to reveal dazzling crystals inside.

4.0 Stars -- Margaret Moser

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