Tia McGraff’s EP “With Love”

Tia McGraff’s EP With Love serves a dual purpose straight out of the gate, before anything else, of serving up an EP’s worth of songs for newcomers to and longtime fans of McGraff’s music. The second thing it does is serve as a memorial release of sorts to honor the anniversary of McGraff’s dog Jake dying on the EP’s release date of September 3rd. It doesn’t mean that With Love is a morbid or depressing affair.

Quite the contrary. No one can say that this seasoned songwriter and author views the world through rose-colored glasses, but she isn’t succumbing to self-pity and despair, however. McGraff’s seven songs for With Love look at the world through positive prisms rather than mirrors or their own navel and it’s a quality obvious from the first. The title song embodies it better than most, as well.

The embodiment begins seconds into the performance. She marks her first mark on listeners in much of the same way she has for the last fifteen-plus years. Pulling that sort of consistency off is laudable enough but keeping things fresh on top of it distinguishes the songs in a way few other performers can match.

The piano playing during “Clockwork” has a cascading-like effect that gives the cut a memorable melodic lift. It doesn’t go overboard, however, there’s no overkill, but McGraff definitely achieves a full and robust sound worthy of her vocal and lyrics. It isn’t the music alone that has sustained her nearly two-decade-long recording career and her poetic imagination hasn’t yet peaked. Later songs, as well, testify to that.

“Go Your Own Way” is the EP’s first single and absolute barnstormer of a track. It doesn’t have that effect on listeners through tempo, mind you, but rather than attitude and cumulative sonic impact. It is uptempo and the recurring chime in the arrangement counterpoints McGraff’s voice. Her voice sparkles and the energy popping from every line is natural, never forced. It is a clearly wise track to push as the EP’s lead-off as it pushes McGraff’s strengths with a vigorous performance.

“Sometimes Love’s Like That” alternates between band-led and spartan passages sustained by little more than McGraff;s voice and an acoustic guitar strum. Well-timed drumming sets a tone for the former and exquisite yet never omnipresent piano playing helps flesh out the overall performance. It’s one of McGraff’s best vocals, as well, especially thanks to the nuance she invests into her phrasing.

“Night Hawk” is the zenith of McGraff’s poetic aspirations on With Love and as fine an invocation of the Muse-figure as you will read/hear in modern literature. This figure manifests itself in countless ways, both for individual artists and throughout history, and McGraff deserves particular kudos for possessing both the technique and imaginative force to craft one of her own out of longstanding poetic lore.

It is enjoyable musically, as well. With Love is a brief and relatively quiet release, but Tia McGraff leaves no stone unturned in attempting to realize its potential. 

Nicole Killian

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Nicole loves to go cross country skiing, swimming, reading and critiquing books, listening and critiquing music, some culinary arts, pottery, spending time with my daughter, cheesy horror films.

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