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Hard to Define Musician Returns With <i>Hooray For the Moon</i> - 2003-06-15


Over the past few decades, Austin, Texas has become a comfortable home base for eclectic musicians. Unlike Nashville, Austin welcomes those with work that encompasses several genres, and is impossible to pin down with the title "country," or "rock," or "folk." Jon Dee Graham, a one-time punk hero turned singer-songwriter is one of those undefinable artists. Graham has made a career out of being hard to pin down.

Hooray For the Moon finds Jon Dee Graham sounding more like an old troubadour than an old punk.

One Moment is the opening track on Jon Dee Graham's third solo CD, Hooray For the Moon. Originally written during Graham's days with the Austin country-punk-rock band The True Believers, the song is familiar to most people because of the pop hit version recorded by Patty Smyth almost a decade ago. While Jon's first hit came from a song that was written when he was barely in his 20s, he never got around to recording his first solo album until he was in his mid-30s, and had spent close to 20 years playing in bands like X, or with artists including Kelly Willis and Michelle Shocked.

In today's music business where the hit charts are regularly dominated by performers barely out of their teens, that's a relatively advanced age to begin a solo career. "I think that coming to it, as you politely put it "an advanced age," I don't bring with me a lot of the illusions, or delusions that I had when I was 20," he says. "Having played behind a lot of people who were fairly successful, I've seen how things work. I also think that the stuff I have to write about is going to be interesting to intelligent people because I started writing about it after I had some actual experience in this world."

Jon Dee Graham was raised on a ranch in Quemado, a small town on the Texas-Mexico border. That helps to explain why Volver, a traditional Mexican love song, sung in the original language but with a modern arrangement, manages to fit right in with the other songs on Hooray For the Moon.

Graham: "I grew up on the Texas-Mexico border. The high school I went to was 96 percent Mexican-American. It was like me and four other white guys. So, I grew up pretty deep in the Mexican culture. All the radio that we got, most of it, was Spanish language radio. I grew up hearing that song a lot. And I turned away from it. But then as I got older and grew up, then I've kind of back around to it. And it's one of my favorite songs of all time and I managed to convince [the record label] to let me put it on the record."
Cole: "The first time I heard you, you were playing in that as very punk sounding."
Graham: "Oh yes."
Cole: "And that's a very far cry from these romantic Mexican songs."
Graham: "I grew up."
Cole: "It's a circle."
Graham: "It's a circle. It's totally a circle. And you take things with you as you travel around the circle. If you listen to the new record, 'Hooray!' There's big punk rock elements in there. There's a couple of songs that are just as dark as anything I've ever done. I'm a fully grown man now, I'm 42 years old. Different things speak to me. And while I've sort of taken some of that power and intensity along with me from my past, I also like the softer, smaller, more emotional songs, too."

Over the past 20 years, Jon Dee Graham has played in so many bands, playing so many different kinds of music, that it's safe to say he can play it all. Nine of the 11 songs on Hooray For the Moon are originals that showcase his considerable songwriting skills and performing range. The only cover, aside from Volver, is the Tom Waits-written Way Down In The Hole. Waits original has the song led by a piano, Jon Dee Graham opens his rendition with some serious guitar work.

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