I applaud the industry and ambition that Tia McGraff has parlayed into a long and ongoing musical career. She hasn’t stopped there, however. The Ontario-born and based writer, singer, and musician branched off into other areas such as children’s literature not out of craven financial need or worse but, instead, driven by restless creativity she sought to answer by whatever means necessary. This sort of insatiable imaginative curiosity has supplied much of the fuel for Tia McGraff to pursue a fifteen-plus year-long career with no signs of slowing down. Her latest collection, an EP entitled With Love, is the latest triumph.
She’s written and recorded seven songs working from essentially the same musical toolbox. It’s a pop/folk/rock confection for the most part reliant on drums and guitar above all else. The latter instrument shows up mostly as acoustic, as well, and With Love’s production records guitar with particular clarity during the EP’s title song. “Clockwork” is one of my personal favorites, however, and I put it above the title song because it has a deeper dramatic impact. Orchestrating passages of light and shadow is a key component of McGraff’s songwriting and few of the EP’s songs are better than this.
“Go Your Own Way” ditches much of the introspection heard in other songs in favor of the big emotions and hard-hitting sonics we get with this single. The drumming especially supplies much of the latter quality, but the production once again does a sterling job rendering a specific instrument. The single’s drum sound never goes overboard. “Organic” seems to be tailored as a follow-up single, perhaps, and I actually prefer the vocal in this song. It has a light touch than the preceding song, without a doubt, but the sweep present in each song are close cousins.
The deliberate yet pensive banjo opening of “Night Hawk” raises the curtain on one of the EP’s most haunting songs, yet it is also a song of transcendence. Fiddle completes the instrumental picture with additional muted colors, but the instrument’s eloquence in the arrangement isn’t out of place. McGraff is definitely reaching for a much more super-traditional folk sound with this song that can nevertheless live under modern lights; it’s a success for her target audience.
With Love’s curtain rises for a final time, however, with the track “Change A-Comin’”. This has elements of a secular spiritual, really, and she conveys the lyrics with the same welcoming mood listeners hear from earlier cuts. McGraff has an impressive accomplishment under her belt with this release that packs every bit as much punch as a full-length release.
Tia McGraff’s With Love doesn’t have a single miss over the course of its seven songs and should satisfy even the most stringent music fans. It is the latest resounding success for a time-tested veteran who still approaches her songwriting with the same freshness as a newcomer. The sophistication, however, and feeling are deep and often quite moving. Nearly two decades into her artistic run, Tia McGraff hasn’t reached her peak yet and, when she does, it’s going to be a doozy.