Jon Dee Graham

Record review

Texas Platters

Jon Dee Graham

Full (Freedom)

Jon Dee Graham's a notoriously fire and brimstone kind of guy, so it's no surprise Full boasts more references to thick smoke and heavy rains than a homeowner's insurance policy. And yet, the twisted beauty of this South Austin fixture's fifth album is that it's both his darkest and most optimistic. It's a set where deadly low-water crossings ("Swept Away") saddle up to fortune-cookie giddiness ("Something Wonderful") and where even his shadiest characters are just a woman's touch away from salvation. Take "Remain," it's Full's warmest ballad, but pretty it ain't: "Cigarette ash everywhere/I'm already gone, even when I'm there." There are tunes for pallbearers and partiers, and more often than not, they're the same ones; these are songs built around characters and relationships so bad off things can only get better. While Full is a songwriter's album through and through, just as vital to its success is Graham's performance. There's not a clever guitar solo shoehorned in for clever's sake, and where his nicotine-stained voice was once a liability, here its subtle highs and lows gouge as deep as the words he's written. Full isn't a bad title for an LP that runneth over with songs so memorable and smart, but when you consider just how much gravity they carry and how high they're stacked, Jon Dee Graham's Greatest Hits might have worked just as well.

****

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