My first exposure to the music of Calum Graham was a record he made with Don Ross called 12:34, back in 2013. Don Ross was the acknowledged king of fingerstyle guitar, and when he deemed young Calum Graham (21 at the time) worthy of making a duo album it gave instant credibility to Graham.
Tabula Rasa is Calum Graham’s sixth album, with his debut recording having been released when he was just 17 years old. Hailing from High River, Alberta and now located in Toronto, he lists his guitar influences as Don Ross, Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, Andres Segovia and Julian Bream. If you don’t know who any of these guitarists are then you need to expand your listening library.
Tabula Rasa is like two albums mixed together - a solo guitar record and a singer-songwriter record. I remember the first time I heard Don Ross sing. After a handful of mind-blowing solo guitar albums, I didn’t want to hear him sing. I just wanted more amazing guitar music. I realize that’s wildly unfair and perhaps a little narrow-minded, but I didn’t want to watch Michael Jordan play baseball either.
With this record, I would have preferred the fingerstyle songs together as a “side A” and the songs with vocals together as a “side B.” Don’t get me wrong, I like the singing tracks just fine, but it’s like putting a tray of sushi and a giant plate of nachos beside each other and trying to eat both at the same time. Sometimes I feel like sushi and sometimes I feel like Mexican, but I don’t eat them together.
So let’s talk guitar tracks. Tabula Rasa opens with a stirring title track, rich with harmonics, open tunings and percussive techniques. Phoenix Rising has some thrilling hammer-on and pull-off combinations. Point of Contact has an an ambient feel, like a Michael Hedges tune, with ethereal harmonics throughout. The Nomad has some subtle textural work. Farewell is played on a harp guitar (google it) and Whisky Sunrise closes the record on a baritone guitar.
There is a stunning cover of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean that you need to hear. Wild Woman reminds me of Gordie Johnson and Big Sugar, with a southern blues vibe. Other highlights include Half Your Heart, Ghost, Easy to Love and Lighthouse.
Calum Graham is playing at Riverside Music in Trenton today (Friday) at 7:30 p.m., and rumour has it that a gifted young local guitarist named Sophie McPherson is joining him for a song or two. Drop in for a night of spectacular guitar music, and buy a copy of Tabula Rasa.
By David Reed, Belleville Intelligencer
Thursday, June 16, 2016 4:57:39 EDT PM