“It’s great to be back in New York,” Alyssa Graham announced as she took the stage with husband Doug at New York’s intimate Rockwood Music Hall. Fans who had come out to experience the Grahams’ contemporary take on American roots music might have been surprised to learn the couple — Alyssa in cowboy boots and the bearded Doug in a furry Papa John Phillips hat — grew up on the East Coast before dedicating themselves to the music of the rural South. Grade school sweethearts and musical soul mates, the couple attracted notice with their first release, 2013’s Riverman’s Daughter, laying down the tracks live in a Nashville studio with Grammy-winning producer Malcolm Burn and members of the North Mississippi Allstars.
In search of ever-greater authenticity, the Grahams then took to riding the rails, train lines with names like “Sunset Limited” and “Southwest Chief” that crisscross the American heartlands. “There’s a special connection between the railroads and American folk music,” Alyssa says in Rattle the Hocks, a documentary of their journey produced by Cody Dickinson. The resulting collection of songs, Glory Bound, is an impressive sophomore effort that showcases the duo’s writing talents along with Alyssa’s big voice and Doug’s impressive work on guitar and dobro.
The hour-long set at the Rockwood featured songs from both albums plus material that is just beginning to take shape. In addition to the title track “Glory Bound,” familiar tunes included “Gambling Girl,” “Griggstown” and “Revival Time.” Responding to the current political turmoil, the Grahams unveiled a new song, “Trouble’s Coming,” before paying homage to their influences with an extended cover of Neil Young’s “Down By the River.”
The Grahams now live in Nashville, but they were working their way east with Shane Tutmarc on bass and Houston Mathews on drums before taking their unique sound on a month-long European tour. Their talents continue to garner attention from fellow musicians and songwriters as they seek the wider audience they deserve. Sometimes it’s hard staying true to the music you love, but for the Grahams there seems to be no other way.