While the duo first met in grade school -- a trait shared by previous musical trail-blazers, from Lennon/McCartney to Jagger/Richards – the Grahams’ journey together began when they were teenagers in the shadow of New York City. There, Alyssa, the impassioned troubadour, and Doug, the guitarist extraordinaire, shared a mutual love for the music of the Woodstock era and the adventures of the great outdoors. Over the ensuing years many a campfire lit acoustic jam would include the best of roots renegades like Neil Young, The Band, Gram Parsons, Janis and Emmylou along with more than a few Jerry Garcia and Johnny Cash nuggets. Later, spending much of their time in the secluded Adirondack Mountains at the Graham family fold, Alyssa and Doug learned the time-honored craft of songwriting. Here, their ongoing interests in traditional country, mountain bluegrass and folk legends such as The Carter Family and Mississippi John Hurt would blossom. Hoping to share their stories on a wider stage, the couple eventually settled in New York City, where they performed, collaborated and recorded a variety of acclaimed material before adopting The Grahams moniker.
While the duo had written music together before, in the summer of 2012 new writing sessions yielded a different approach. Something magical was happening between Alyssa and Doug. A catalyst was born in the new song “Riverman’s Daughter,” a tale of love, loss, and hardship on the river that showcases Alyssa’s bountiful voice. Backed by her own rhythm guitar, along with the strong current of Doug’s cascading accompaniment on the six string, and traditional vocal harmonies, the track came in a lightning bolt of inspiration. A vision and calling to write more songs of its kind took hold.
Alyssa and Doug had an idea: What if they put their city lives on hold and, armed with just guitars and backpacks, traveled the 2,500 miles of highways and byways of the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisiana. Light out for the territory, so to speak, like Huck and Jim. There, the duo could follow the Great River Road (GRR) that parallels the waterway, meet the people, and hear first-hand where European folk music, brought to these shores generations ago, took root alongside rhythms and chants from Africa, and how these polarizing sounds formed the backbone of our 20th Century American musical heritage.
And so The Grahams did just that, and in the process created their debut album, Riverman’s Daughter. Along the way The Grahams played gigs at the various gin and juke joints that dotted the GRR, and met a colorful cast of characters and genuine music makers with whom the duo shared and exchanged stories through the common bond of song.
Eventually Alyssa and Doug ended up intentionally isolated on an old houseboat in rural Louisiana where the Mississippi spills into the Atchafalaya swamp. There, The Grahams prolifically stockpiled songs, enjoyed the simplicity of living off the grid, and for a spell, invited onboard friends and musicians including their longtime collaborator Bryan McCann, a wordsmith who aids with lyrical inspiration. Yet perhaps the biggest inspiration on Riverman’s Daughter was Doug’s own mother, Gigi, the matriarch of the Graham family clan, and a true fan of the duo who had been diagnosed with cancer earlier that year. As her condition worsened, the Grahams packed up their guitars and newly minted collection of songs to become Gigi’s “angel band,” and played by her side until she passed away.
As recording of the new album began, The Grahams found a true kindred spirit in Grammy-winning producer Malcolm Burn, who brought a magical touch and inspired ideas into the studio. It was Burn’s idea to record both Alyssa and Doug’s parts live to tape without the assistance of headphones or isolation -- in the way they were written. This process gives the album a natural aura that harkens back to an era when this practice was commonplace. Along the same lines, The Grahams chose to record the album in Nashville, the longtime epicenter of country music. While the album’s foundation is simple and acoustic, The Grahams are backed on a few tracks by stellar accompaniment including the Grammy-nominated North Mississippi Allstars. Along with the title song the album is highlighted by the 70’s country rock flavored “Carrying The Torch,” the spirited traditional vibe of “The Piney River,” and the riveting upbeat barn dance playfulness of “Revival Time.”
Ultimately, the album is a winning culmination of The Grahams’ long journey into the heart of America, the inspiration they derived from immersion into classic American music, and the natural and honest talent they have for bringing forth a modern musical idiom steeped in tradition.
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