By Layla Marino
Liz Graham is a well-established folk singer and songwriter from Nyack, New York. With her operatic voice and the slightly unconventional key in which she normally writes her music, she found success with her self-titled album in 1998.
Graham began her folk career at a young age, starting in a band called Tracking Buddha in 1996, and even before that she was appearing on radio and in small clubs.
Her work ethic and tenacity won her several ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) awards between 1994 and 96 for her appearances, and her song “Curious” was featured as an outstanding song by the ASCAP in 1995. Graham suffered the tragic loss from suicide of her older brother at 18 years old, and has been an advocate and a voice for suicide prevention ever since.
Spurned on perhaps by her tragedy, Liz Graham’s music and lyrics are nothing if not optimistic, and with “Charcoal on a Canvas,” Colorful and Piercing’s first single, Graham is definitely not lacking in that department.
If you like shiny happy people music, look no further than Liz Graham’s catalog. Her overall sound is folk-cum-indie, with vocals which are almost operatic and may remind listeners of Joni Mitchell with a hint of Alanis Morrisette and Dolores O’Riordan. She seldom has much more accompaniment than her guitar, so her unique sound is mostly found in her song composition. In the long gap since her last album, Graham has not stopped performing, and still tours the northeast frequently.
Folk is generally written in sort of a quiet key, with almost a muted watercolor feel to it. Liz Graham’s sound is generally a bit brighter, and the way she builds the rhythm and layers her vocals over the jovial backing track is a surprise to folk and indie fans alike.
Her lyrics are not always as perky as her music and voice, as she covers some pretty heavy subjects in her first album but because of the more upbeat music, there is a sense of hope which permeates even the saddest of lyrics. Graham claims to be heavily influenced by poets like Robert Louis Stevenson, and has published the lyrics to each of her songs as a stand-alone poetic piece on her website.
In Colorful and Piercing, it seems that Graham is looking to branch out a bit. Rather than the classic folk of her debut album, pop and adult contemporary styles creep into her music on the new album, with mixed results.
The only full track yet released, “Charcoal on a Canvas” seems to have missed the mark a bit. The rhythms are a little strange, and her typical layering technique shows vocals and music clashing rather than creating a harmony. I’m all for experimenting, but it seems like some more editing in post would have been helpful here.
It may be the addition of extra instruments to “Charcoal on a Canvas,” but it seems as though the richness of Graham’s opera singer voice doesn’t really go with the music arrangements. This is the case in many of the songs on Colorful and Piercing, with the exception of “Damaged,” “Quincy Square” and “A Little Bit More.” These three songs are more of Graham’s classic folk style, but they just seem to blend better.
It could just be a taste issue and I definitely don’t begrudge artists who take chances and try something new, but it seems Liz Graham may need a little more time to develop the new styles she is working on. Fans can judge for themselves by listening to “Charcoal on a Canvas” via the player below or they may click here to listen to clips from the rest of the album.
If you like indie folk, Graham’s first album, though hard to come by, is a good add to any playlist. She has many more live performances available to view on YouTube as well.