Nathan Graham Steps
Saint of Second Chances
Welcome singer-songwriter, Chicago’s Nathan Graham to the fold. His circuitous route has taken him from a youth absorbed in such commercial acts as Prince and Earth, Wind, and Fire to many a night supporting various blues acts at Buddy Guy’s Legends or Kingston Mines in his hometown. His first important step was to form his own bands to deliver his original music, which now results in a debut of the same, the aptly titled Saint of Second Chances. While hints of blues emerge in his songs, Graham clearly emerges as a singer-songwriter with a gift for melodic, infectious hooks that blend soul, pop, and even country. It’s refreshing; he’s not the cut-from-the-same-cloth type that often emanates from Nashville or Austin. His guitar is present but clearly in a supporting role as Graham’s rich, deep voice, and the songs themselves assume the focus.
The album opens with one of the lead singles, “Pride,” its bombastic initial chords soon yielding to a driving rhythm and singalong hooks, pounding piano in the instrumental break, and swelling choruses. It’s as radio friendly as it gets. “Fake Friends” has a syncopated, stomping rhythm behind a subject that few generally comment on. Sometimes the emphasis on empathy in a relationship blind both parties from being their better selves. These kinds of thoughts form the theme of the album, the anxiety of the human condition – being afraid to let go, the fear of screwing it up, and the pendulum of happy and sad. These universal themes are his way of bonding with his audience. The rhythmic hand clapped “Somebody Else” brims with swaying soul, and the first hints of bluesy guitar as he sings about dissolving a relationship to preserve his sanity. The self-reflective piano driven ballad “I Can’t Change It,” puts Graham’s crooning voice front and center as the piano and organ swell to a glorious crescendo behind him.
“Right One,” another single, carries a syncopated rhythm but is among the most joyous tracks here, as the protagonist celebrates finding the right love to the strains of gospel background singers and the ever present swelling B3. Here he unleashes a searing blues-rock guitar break. The breezy accompaniment to “Worrying My Life” belies his ruminative lyrics, where he’s constantly reassuring himself that all will be okay in the chorus. The gently strummed ballad “Good Honest Man” is a standout. It too plays to the theme of escaping a love before it all comes crashing down, preferring not to endure the emotions of loss. His guitar solo, in the style of a bluesman with few but the right notes, sustains the ache of the lyrics.
“Already Won” is another blissful stomper while “Why” is a ballad much in the vein of “Worrying My Life” thematically and although lacking the hooks and lift of much of his other material, it’s slightly redeemed by his judicious, ‘less is more’ guitar break. On that point, from an overall standpoint, a little less reliance on syncopated rhythms and slightly toning down the density of the sonics, can only help. As we’d anticipate, Graham closes with a big dose of confidence in the mid-tempo ballad, “I’ll Get It Right,” assuring us that he’s learned his lessons, and can move forward with conviction, launching his most fiery guitar solo on the album.
Graham doubtlessly has a promising future as a songwriter. He’s certainly mastered the melody and hooks already and is blessed with soulful, expressive vocals.
- Jim Hynes
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