Steven Graves, Matter of Time
Let me say something upfront: Matter of Time, from Santa Cruz songwriter and guitarist Steven Graves (http://www.stevengravesmusic.com), is not what I expected. It’s something much better: a very pleasant shock.
The truth is, every time I hear about a new band from certain parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, I have to bite back a groan: oh damn, is this going to be yet another Grateful Dead wannabe with a hope chest full of vaguely Robert Hunteresque lyrics, on a self-proclaimed mission to keep Jerry Garcia’s memory green? It’s a depressingly common phenomenon in this neck of the woods, and the fact that the Dead are probably the most recorded band in rock history – seriously, there was a period when Garcia couldn’t eat dinner backstage at the Keystone Berkeley and burp afterwards without thirty people taping it as a bootleg – doesn’t seem to weigh in.
If I sound like a Dead hater, think again. It’s just that my days with the Dead ran from the late sixties to the time when band member Pigpen died. The music from that era is still green and gorgeous and powerful, still out there, still doing what it’s always done.
The Dead, in short, aren’t fading away anytime soon. And most of the newbie wannabes just don’t measure up.
So let’s make it clear: Steven Graves is no Hunter or Garcia wannabe. Musically, he’s very much his own man.
Matter of Time is no watered-down Dead homage. Graves runs a nice spectrum of different musical flavours, from rootsy rockers like “Right From My Heart” and the Allmans-scented “Outside Looking In” through a kind of playful reggae in “Mr. Sunshine”, and beyond. He’s been extremely canny in the supporting guest musicians here as well – the key word is “support”. Nothing clashes or grates here; the quality of the production is crisp and appropriate.
Some of the songs work better for me than others; not being much of a reggae fan, I gravitated more towards the rockers. But each musical style is nicely handled, and respected. The title track, with a sparkly little piano run lacing through it, is as pretty a piece of updated alt-country as I’ve heard in a while.
If you want faux or nouveau Dead, this probably isn’t for you. Graves is an original. I’d say give the man a listen.
Matter of Time is available from CD Baby (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/stevengraves4)