Tia McGraff – Stubborn in My Blood

Album Review | Bandana Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Tia McGraff has one of those voices that blends angelic note hitting ability with just enough rasp or crackle to give her life lesson lyrics gravitas and weight. There is a little of the Country Blues burr of a sweet Bonnie Raitt or even Bonnie Tyler with a touch of Dolly Parton. It’s a confident voice, with great phrasing and an ability to hold your attention. As well as an assured sincere Tia is also a captivating writer, songs like “Pilot of Change” offer the gleaming radio friendly sheen of Shania Twain applied to real life lessons and some catchy phrases. “Hole in Your Heart” twines some eternal lyrics we can all relate to and an achingly emotional delivery. A pared back arrangement with guitar and harmonising vocals to the fore, gives Tia’s performance room to really shine. “Travelin’ by Guitar” is an anthemic ballad to the romantic lure of the journeyman guitarist. McGraff manages to inhabit a kind of Rootsy John Hiatt vibe. “Let ‘em See Your Strong” starts with a sensitive piano part that sounds like a riff on Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do it For You”, but Catherine Marx’s piano playing and Tia’s vocals have grace and sensitivity, a wonderful Gospel groove develops and the netherworld of 90s film tie in power ballads is deftly avoided. The title song is an examination of McGraff’s origins, with touches of a Celtic air and whistles to create mood. “One Tin Soldier” is another Tia performance that perfectly marries smooth and gritty, pop sheen vocals and some West Coast jangling guitar. Ironic dark lyrics offer a stark warning about spiritual consequences. Even without the backing of her excellent band, Far Away Man’s nuanced emotional vocal, resonant guitar and Ellen Day’s stunning violin, all pack a real punch. Tia McGraff’s performance and phrasing makes it sound so effortlessly perfect. “Forbidden” waltzes through a biblical twist on desire between meeting strangers, like a country take on a lush 50s smooth Doris Day ballad, played on a wintery snowy day valve radio. Timeless and old school beautiful. The lyric is a cracking co-write with Pete Reily and Henry Priestman too. One person’s stubborn is another one’s single minded determination and focused vision. Tia McGraff makes ear friendly, universal, valve warm, comfortable leather sofa rootsy music with veins of back road Gospel, passion and a touch of vim and vinegar to temper the sweetness. If this drive and determination, running through a musician or singer at a capillary level is stubborn, then stubborn is good and we need more single minded, affirming, smile on the face music.