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Raoul Graf - Splinters

  by John Clarkson

published: 17 / 12 / 2001

Raoul Graf - Splinters
Label: Um And Ah
Format: CD


Australian singer-songwriter Raoul Graf has for many years been on the edge of success. A gifted talent, but one never quite fashionable enough to fit in with record company trends, he has, however,

Australian singer-songwriter Raoul Graf has for many years been on the edge of success. A gifted talent, but one never quite fashionable enough to fit in with record company trends, he has, however, until now, never met with the breaks he has deserved. As the vocalist in rock outfit, Bell Jar, with whom he had some Australian radio hits, Graf briefly fluttered with fame in the late eighties. Bell Jar’s debut album ‘Glass’ (1989), while having some strong moments , was, however, marred by poor production and sold less well than expected. Dropped by their record label Hot Records as a result, the group split up a few months after its release. Since then Graf has run his own Sydney label and booking agency Um and Ah ,and also fronted the increasingly folk-based The Infidels, with whom he has recorded two full-length studio CDs ‘3am in the Morning (1994)’ and ‘Road to Hanna’ (1996) , and a concert album ‘Here Comes Johnny (1999)’. The Infidels enjoy a reputation as a hard-working and strong live act and have always attracted respectful reviews, but Um and Ah’s medium-level indie status has meant that , beyond their staunchly loyal, but relatively small fanbase, sales have again always been modest. Now at last though things seem set to change for Graf. His first solo album,‘Splinters’, released in Australia jointly by Um and Ah and another Sydney label Phantom Records in November , and distributed in Britain by ironically Hot Records since March, has been greeted by a flurry of attention and mass acclaim both from the press and public, and has already outsold the last Infidels record by two to one. Graf has enlisted the help on it of his long-term friend Ed Kuepper, the former guitarist in punk pioneers The Saints ; a veteran of over thirty albums, and an important and influential figure in Australian music. Kuepper’s involvement, and also the participation of the larger Phantom Records , has contributed much to ‘Splinters’ higher profile, attracting much of the interest surrounding it and giving it an extra edge of credibility. Kuepper has had a ‘hands on’ role on the album, acting as its producer and arranger, playing guitars and also helping to develop its lyrics. Anyone though seeing ‘Splinters’ simply as an extension of Kuepper’s own work would, however, be very much mistaken. The songs on it , less oblique in subject matter than Kuepper’s and more character-based, are very much Graf’s own. Principally a rock album but also containing elements of folk, blues and country, ‘Splinters’ is a striking, punchy and timeless collection that features songs of honest emotion, and of raw and gritty quality. The brief and edgy opener ‘Norton Street’ merges together acoustic guitarwork from Graf with light touches of electrics from Kuepper and describes the isolation of being alone and depressed in a seedy district of Sydney. The second track, the six minute plus ‘Country Girl’, a bluesy number with flourishing stabs of organ from regular Infidels keyboardist, Johnny Gauci, meanwhile captures the plight of a girl out of place in the city and looking for ano-good brother. Location is a key component elsewhere on ‘Splinters’ also. ‘Californian Switch’ is about the building of the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric system by teams of largely immigrant workers in the fifties and sixties, and matches proud, but weary-sounding singing from Graf with chugging and churning instrumentation. The atmospheric ‘Postcards from Melbourne’ meanwhile has echoing drum rolls and guitar lines and a haunted vocal and tells of love on the rocks and “low-life bar” life. The album’s other principal collaborater is Rachel Holmshaw, the lead singer with Sydney band Something Urban, who lends poignant, but world-weary backing vocals to several of the tracks and also duets with Graf on three of the songs.On the brooding, slow smouldering ‘Birthday Invitation’, a reprisal of an Infidels song, she plays the part of a cynical bar fly, let down and betrayed by one of her “male friends” . The rootsy folk-based ‘The River’, a song which was improvised in the studio by Graf, Kuepper and Holmshaw, uses choppy, harsh and insistent acoustic guitarwork from Graf as a forceful undercurrent to the two singers vigorous and gutsy vocal harmonies. The final bittersweet ‘Everything I Own’, a reworking of one of Kuepper’s most famous songs, meanwhile is a thoroughly modern take and switch on relationships, with Graf dewey and romantic and Holmshaw the aggressor. This is a powerful, impressive accomplishment, an album that is compassionate, moving, humane, sad but, as the last track indicates, also occasionally very funny. With strong songs such as these, and plans to return to the studio later this year with Kuepper, Graf has at last found long overdue success.

Track Listing:-
1 Norton Street
2 Country Girl
3 Californian Switch
4 The River
5 Postcaeds From Melbourn
6 Pretty Horses
7 Fly North
8 Birthday Invitation
9 Hair Of The Dog
10 The Answer Song
11 Everything I've Got

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Interview (2002)
Raoul Graf - Interview
Raoul Graf is a talented Australian singer-songwriter and frontman with a growing reputation. The owner also of a Sydney-based record label and booking agency Um and Ah, Graf first came to public att

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