Record Review - 2 June 19 2002

What happens when punk rockers grow up? If they're lucky, they live past 40, master their craft by writing mature, provocative songs and put together a CD as full of integrity and spark as Jon Dee Graham's third album, Hooray for the Moon.

Graham's resiliency is evident in his 25 years as sideman and songwriter. After forming Austin, Texas, punk band the Skunks, he co-led (with Alejandro Escovedo) alt-country touchstones the True Believers. Briefly relocating to Los Angeles in the late '80s, he worked with John Doe and Michelle Shocked (among others), and upon returning home was Kelly Willis'lead guitarist.

Graham's own songs shine on Hooray for the Moon, his third solo CD. With help from Mike Hardwick on second guitar, steel guitar and dobro, Mark Andes (of Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne) on bass, and the venerable Jim Keltner on drums, there's plenty of the darkness Graham is known for — but also tenderness, joy and wit. "One Moment" grabs instantly with its opening guitar riffs and unfettered buoyancy. Of the two covers (the other being Tom Waits' "Way Down the Hole"), the Tex-Mex love song "Volver" seems obligatory given its popularity at his live shows. "The Restraining Order Song" and "Laredo (Small Dark Something)" are the sort of songs he's so adept at — chronicling life's more sinister impulses alongside hard-driving melodies and masterful guitar work.

But Graham is even better at writing sentimental tunes without the sap, as in the poignant "I Go Too," a ballad about a father's love for his son. All of which makes Hooray for the Moon an album worth shouting about.

Jon Dee Graham plays Smith's Olde Bar Wed., June 26.??