It was 1985 when one of the most iconoclastic fingerstyle geniuses to walk the planet made a counterintuitive decision to shake up his established instrumental legacy by adding his voice. Michael Hedges, on Watching My Life Go By, surprised fans with a vocal album that met with mixed reactions from a fan base which had come to expect only fretboard gymnastics. Fast-forward to 2016 and fingerstyle wizard Calum Graham has also, déjà-vu like, unleashed a vocal talent on his new CD Tabula Rasa to wonderfully complement his well-deserved fingerstyle celebrity. The difference here, though, is that Hedges' voice was arguably mediocre, whereas Graham's is flat-out stunning. Calum Graham's swampy and powerfully soulful vocals on "Wild Woman" and "Half Your Heart" could rival R&B icon Marc Broussard's signature sound. Graham has also proven himself to be a deft and evocative lyricist on this release as evidenced by the tune "Ghost"… haunting in every respect by plumbing a deep poetry of loss and a fervency of delivery, with guitar and voice in perfect but sad sympathy. Graham may even one-up the groove of former CandyRat labelmate Gareth Pearson's version of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" with the addition of his stirring vocals… and with a harp guitar, no less. There is plenty to satisfy the fingerstyle purist on this release, however. Graham was the first-place winner of the Canadian Guitar Festival in 2010 at the age of 18, and has been named as one of the top 30 guitarists under the age of 30 by Acoustic Guitar Magazine. "Tabula Rasa" was produced, recorded and engineered by legendary fingerstylist Antoine Dufour. So, instrumental purists, prepare to be blown away by compositions like "Tabula Rasa," Phoenix Rising" and "The Nomad" which faithfully capture on six strings a spectrum of feeling from exultation to tribulation. Completing a circle of sorts begun in 1985, Michael Manring, bassist extraordinaire who played on Michael Hedges' Watching My Life Go By, joins Calum for an atmospheric anthem entitled -- in testament, perhaps -- "Farewell."
© Alan Fark