Richard McGraw – Song and Void Volume 1

Richard McGraw
Song and Void Volume 1

Richard McGraw’s debut album, Song and Void Volume 1, is an interesting, nostalgic affair with precise and deliberate lyrics strengthened by rich musical textures. The beautifully packaged album, released in an embossed paper case, finds McGraw dishing out emotional anecdotes and lessons like a wise old man, though he recorded the album in his late 20s. McGraw’s voice and themes conjure up Bryan Ferry’s quieter solo performances and Leonard Cohen’s dark passion.

Song and Void Volume 1 opens slowly with the country nuance of “Butter Hill,” Bob Leive’s trumpet adding a hazy, lush element to McGraw’s appealing lyrics and delivery. McGraw continues to convince listeners of his pain and fatigue as he tackles more emotional crusades in similar tales like “Find Me Then” and “To Keep You Safe.” Religion and relationships with women, healthy or not, are dominant themes in McGraw’s songs. Whether mostly autobiographical references or the life experiences of brilliantly depicted characters that were conceived specifically for his first record, McGraw’s lyrics spur curiosity.

On the slower tracks, like the sensitive “Are You Still” and the crushing, piano-driven “Hopefully,” McGraw sings with passion, if not the most dynamic range. This is when he most recalls Cohen and his poet-turned-singer vocal delivery. Yet, other selections on Song and Void Volume 1 offer the romance and sensuality Ferry has exuded for so many years. “The Masses and the Craftsmen” fuses McGraw’s rolling guitar and uplifting sighs with his bittersweet lyrics: “So you want to be a rock star / But you’re at home with all your needs / In the basement of your mother / Keeping quiet so she can sleep / Of all of the dreams one could choose / There’s one that will place you on display if you lose / Find yourself there long-haired, 45 / Rocking out the county fair.”

McGraw bares his emotions in such a raw manner on “Navy Blue,” surrounded by guitar, tuba, bass, trumpet, and violin that the listener can’t help but sympathize with him. Many who hear the song will be touched more deeply and feel like some of their own social and intimate experiences are being discussed. The two most up-tempo tracks on Song and Void Volume 1 are “St. Anthony” and “Natasha in High School.” While “St. Anthony” benefits from the sweet backing vocals of the Sisters of Mercy quartet, the only voice accompanying McGraw on “Natasha in High School” is that of multi-instrumentalist Zoe B. Zak. “Natasha in High School” is a classic piano bar sing-along tune with witty rhyming lyrics and dominant Wurlitzer and accordion by McGraw and Zak, respectively.

The last stanza of this buoyant tale of memories and regrets demonstrates McGraw’s compositional brilliance: “So when I lose the wife / And all the kids are cool / I dream of Natasha in high school / And all of the egos and the ids / Laugh at all the stupid things I did / I wish she could be mine / Just one more time.” McGraw is much more than the average singer-songwriter. On Song and Void Volume 1, he plays acoustic and electric guitars and piano and demonstrates how important it is to select a group of instrumental collaborators who flawlessly co-create the messages and vibes the singer wants to convey. Song and Void Volume 1 is a rich and impassioned record that builds new musical memories as it explores the unforgettable connections of past years.