Album Review

Graham Stone Music’s New Release Crushes the Void

Graham Stone Music - Until the Day

Graham Stoll with his guitar prior to new record release. (Photo by Joey Wharton, courtesy of the artist)

Graham Stone Music. That what it says on his card, and it’s pretty accurate. He’s nailed something down I think. Something solid like stone, I think, to terribly mix metaphors. A young guy, tall, good-looking. Coming from Manassas, Graham McCune Stoll, aka Graham Stone Music, lives now in Richmond, VA, which has become an increasingly lively place for rootsy music. A deep, rich, pure, older voice comes out of a younger-looking self, dripping with resonance and maturity. Kind of like fine bourbon.  This is noticeable on the deep-voiced passages, not so much on the tenor tones, though he sounds fine throughout.

I’ve recently written about the originality and poetry in the lyrics of some bands I’ve just discovered, like Driftwood and Western Centuries. Since that was so fresh on my mind, I couldn’t help but notice that wasn’t entirely so here. Yet, while I wouldn’t expect that, particularly with such a young artist, I’ve realized more and more how he does an excellent, intelligent, original job on his lyrics. His work here, to me, again, reflects the work I’d expect from an older artist.

While I especially like the covers he performs, with often rare choices by fine artists, all the tunes on the new album are Stoll’s own.

Yes, what I did hear was solid, smart, well-arranged, melodic, and nicely-crafted songs, each one, on Stoll’s new album, Until the Day.  Elements of folk, country, rock, I’d put them together as Americana. His strong, powerful voice propels a listener on journeys, with his energetic thrusts in the shape of growls punctuating lines or stanzas.  He sets the engine at a good, median burn, seldom goes real fast or slow, but takes you on a ranging ride.

His voice reminds me somewhat of James Wilson, lead singer of Sons of Bill, my favorites, in the deep registers, not so much the higher tones. When he goes deep though, the edge to the sound as the baritone slides sharply through a clinch-sounding mouth, is filled with darkened emphasis, where I hear echoes of James in my SOB-conditioned ears.

You could think Old Crow Medicine Show. You could think Byrds.  Though a different spelling, his parents named him after Gram Parsons. Graham calls what he does "New South roots music" and, simply, "Songs from Virginia." 

As to the songs themselves, on Until the Day, one standout for me is the lead-off on the CD, “Canyonlands.”

Blankets of rain /on the horizon/ red rocks and desert sage./Plateau wide and endless /and the sun across the clay./ It’s a hard wind blowin’/ so tie down the covered load./ Move past the gated fences/ way out on the open road again.

It’s a hundred miles to Moab/ following the power lines./In the distance lightning flashes on the highway/The engine whines./Once again, it’s southbound Utah/ under a blue and orange sky./Where the hills rise /in defiance of the winding railway lines,/ the railway lines.

There’s a gospel tinge in the fabric at times. From “Flowers in Montana”:

But the flowers in Montana all are bloomin./And the river by the mountain/is clear and cold./And the flower on my arm will stay forever. I’m not a young man, but I’ve never felt so old./So even when the mountains/shake and tremble./Even when my time on earth is done./When they throw my bones alone deep into red dirt./Just remember that I’m going to the Son.

I like that flower on his arm, following as it does the clear, cold mountain river, a perfectly placed juxtaposition.                                                                                                                                                                                        

From a young white man in western Virginia mountains, I was surprised, and impressed, to find a song that appears to be from the perspective of a slave fighting for freedom in the Civil War in the shadow of John Brown.

Overtook me up at Harper’s Ferry/where they hung Ol’ John Brown./ Near the railroad line/beneath the bluffs,/I stood out on open ground./They had me surrounded from the North, South, East, and West./Two pearl-handled pistols/I drew slowly from my vest.  ...

My  body lays there to this day./Buried beneath the stone./But have no pity/on my soul./For I am free/and I am home.

He rocks it in tunes like “Richmond City Blues” and “On the Run,” big-time, full of vocal and guitar growls and a relentless, restless pace at times. But, the pace is nicely varied on the record.

Stoll is part of a musical crowd. His wife harmonizes with him on this record and is part of another band with him, Whiskey Wells. And Stoll began as part of a family “collaboration” band, Karla and the Brotherhood.  Named after his sister Karla, K&TB had a core membership comprised of siblings and spouses but displayed in various iterations of family and friends. They've been playing music together for years, and in 2015, released their first six-song EP. A busy lad, no wonder his card simply reads “Music.” His dad also is a professional musician, playing in a blues band. He was at a meeting of the Blues Society when I met Graham at Red Wing.

Stoll’s bio says that “for Graham, this whole project is about storytelling. Some of the stories are about people, some are about places, some are about perspective and some are a visceral mix of all three.”

Stoll says, "I'm a better person when I'm writing and playing music. It helps me remember who I'm meant to be. And it's intensely personal. So after I finally decided on which songs I felt ok about sharing with others, my goal then became to try and engage the listener with the story. To bring them along to experience all the elements and emotions laid bare in each song and to hopefully allow folks to experience those things together..."

I met Stoll when I first got to Red Wing Roots Music Festival near Harrisonburg, VA, this year. He was a volunteer, and offered me a ride out to our remote campsite where my wife was waiting. He decided to take his own truck since he felt I’d be more comfortable, with my neuropathy, that way. On the way I discovered he was a singer-songwriter. And he found out that I write about music, and struggle around with my own music. By the time we got there, I felt we’d become friends. Turned out we were nearby neighbors in the tents of Z Lot, and he later dropped by his new CD.

I felt I’d probably implied that I’d review the new album. So, I was a bit nervous, hoping I could follow through, that I’d like it well enough to do a positive review. I have to be honest; so the best I could do if I didn’t like it would be to soft peddle somehow. But, I didn’t have to. This is an album that I, who have the luxury of listening to a lot of music, will listen to often. It is music I’ll put on when I want something solid and smooth in its delivery, yet bringing a rocking, deep-voiced ride into the previous void of sound.