Tia McGraff’s eleven song collection Stubborn in My Blood is her follow-up to the recent release Crazy Beautiful and continues her long-standing collaboration with husband and musician Tommy Parham. The duo originally met when both were living in the Nashville area and, since they joined artistic forces, they have earned generous praise and played some of the most important venues in the Americana/country music scene. Much of what they offer on Stubborn in My Blood definitely takes its cues from classic country music, both in terms of instrumentation and structure, but there’s influences on the music making their effect felt throughout the course of the album. McGraff and Parham are on quite a run over the last three years and, in that time, she has solidified her position as one of the best singer/songwriters working within the Americana style today. This new album should raise her regard several notches and stands among the finest efforts the genre can produce in 2018.
“Pilot of Change” begins the album and, by the time I reached the conclusion, I was still sure that the song is among Stubborn in My Blood’s finest moments. The rich arrangement of instrumentation definitely recalls traditional music without ever belaboring it with clichés McGraff shows she’s adept with a lyric balancing both characterization and storytelling while still retaining the focus of the song thanks to her eye-popping vocal. The second song on Stubborn in My Blood, “Hole in Your Heart”, is one of the bleaker tunes on the release with some atmospheric electric guitar accompanying the acoustic guitar/McGraff’s voice at the heart of the number. “Strong” is one of the obvious singles from this release and packs quite a wallop despite being a piano based ballad. There’s none of the schmaltz we associate with modern country or pop plaguing this song; instead, McGraff’s vocal is a cry from the heart and the music embodies the song’s emotional tenor without ever straining for effect.
“Stubborn in My Blood” has lyrics and a vocal alike helping it come across as an expression of McGraff’s character rather than merely a performance for audiences. It’s that sort of personal touch that she brings to album setting it apart from similar efforts in this mold, I think, and the keen experience she brings to the songs as a performer transforms them into something indelible and true. There’s a calm, collected confidence surrounding “Faraway Man” despite the heartache lurking just beneath the song’s surface and McGraff gives an intimate, near angelic reading of the song that will touch all the but the hardest hearts. The melancholy fiddle playing accentuates the mood and even takes a brief, effective solo. There’s some tasteful banjo and fiddle both appearing in the second to last track “The Faithful Ones”. The sense of community often expressed in the duo’s music comes across here, as well, and it’s crouched in traditional, even biblical, language that finds its mark. McGraff gives the song a light bluesy edge that makes it all the more appealing. Stubborn in My Blood, for me, means McGraff remains as resolutely committed to following her Muse as ever before and we can look forward to high quality albums like this for some time to come. She’s getting better and going deeper each time out.