Jon Dee Graham The Great Battle

As a key member of the wonderful True Believers (alongside Alejandro Escovedo) in the ’80s, Austinite Jon Dee Graham already deserves a place in the roots-rock pantheon. He has released three acclaimed solo albums, and new outing The Great Battle ranks as his best work yet. Graham’s voice is a passionate and convincing instrument, possessing a rich resonance akin to that of Richard Buckner or Mark Lanegan and sometimes a Waits-like gruffness. The album’s title and the evocative sleeve photo (in which Graham resembles a younger William Burroughs) hint at a man who has seen strife in his life, and his songs oft reflect a hard-earned wisdom. In the album highlight "Robot Moving,” he notes "I swore I’d never use the word irony in a song/Of course the irony is I never meant to live this long.” Both songs and voice are framed neatly by producer Charlie Sexton, who also adds guitar and keyboards, while the haunting pedal steel work of Michael Hardwick also shines. A slightly rocked-up cover of Neil Young classic "Harvest” is effective, as is a version of the traditional "Lonesome Valley” and a new take on True Believers gem, "Sleep Enough to Dream.” Graham dedicates the disc to "the strugglers” and his offering of hope amidst the darkness is a welcome one. (New West)