Steven Graves Melds Creativity With Passion On ‘How Long’

[rating=6.00]

From the very start of Steven Graves’ How Long, the music sounds as picturesque as it is understated. Momentum develops early in the course of these dozen cuts, the cumulative impact of which may not startle with innovation, but imposes no undue flash either. Rather, the songwriter/bandleader and his accompanists enliven all his original songs (and Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter’s “Sugaree”) with economical playing and singing in line with the modesty of the material.  

Wholly bereft of the gaudy or garish, the musicianship exhibits tasteful self-discipline on the title tune and “Forces of Love.” The crisp electric piano from James Mikey Day dovetails smoothly with the gospel-inflected singing and, in turn, with the fluid electric guitar runs of Travis Cruse. Those vocal harmonies might be parceled out with a bit more restraint–as with the reggae-influenced rhythm components of “Let It Reign”–but otherwise Graves and co-producer/engineer David “DJ” Higdon display a light touch further indicative of the restraint that permeates this project.

That is, except for the intrusive spoken interludes and sound effects on “Stand for the People.” Clocking in at 6:04,  the longest track here doesn’t benefit from those inclusions but instead strains for profundity. Better Steven and his collaborators engaged in more instrumental interludes to strengthen How Long: “Captain Soul” suggests the insertion of some freewheeling improvisation, perhaps even a purely instrumental track, might allow for more direct exposition of roots (such as the country overtones of “Fool For You) and at the same time add to the dynamics of the album overall.

“Set Me Free” would also seem ideal for such a segment, its uptempo gait readily malleable for the kind of jams that hint a live album might be a logical next step for this artist. In contrast, “Weary Man” is the sole derivative piece of music here, a bit too reminiscent of the iconic San Francisco band whose tune comes next in the sequence. But perhaps the juxtaposition is deliberate: there’s a definite sense Steven Graves’ knows exactly what he’s doing throughout this record, a purposeful air that elevates his creativity in line with his passion.

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