Jon Dee Graham
Escape From Monster Island (New West)
Reviewed by Tim Stegall, Fri., Nov. 24, 2017
"I wish I was clever enough to invent characters that never existed, doing things that never happened," admitted Jon Dee Graham to Texas Monthly in 2012. "But I'm not. The songs are how I work things out." At the time of his solo debut – after two decades being Everyone Else's Guitar Hero (Skunks, True Believers, John Doe, Kelly Willis) – the journeyman Austin rocker was working out the dissolution of his marriage to Sally Norvell and sending first son Roy back to his mother after having custody. As he intones on "Kings" in his manicured Tom Waits rasp: "Well, having a child takes the paint right off a man." Throughout the album, finally on vinyl, Graham rips Band-Aids right off his throbbing nerves. Spanning country ("Mockingbird Smile"), heartland rock ("Soonday"), and folk (take your pick), his naked bow serves as a delivery system for what's characterized on "When a Woman Cries" as "sorry words from a sorry man/ The sorriest words I think I can stand." Cut at the Hit Shack with then-Charlie Sexton Sextet rhythm section George Reiff and Rafael Gayol, guitar support from co-producer Mike Hardwick, and another ex in Kathy McCarty on occasional harmonies, Escape From Monster Island is a painfully intimate exercise in self-therapy.