"Got me a ticket for a direct flight ... gotta get to Memphis," croons jazz-rocker Ben Graves on the title track of his latest album, Memphis. It's not a particularly original sentiment (anyone else hear "Don't got no time to catch a freight train" in the background?) but it sums up pretty well where the singer's at. Graves trained in Boston and Washington state and is now a San Francisco resident, but his gentle melodies and nostalgic lyrics belie his roots in rural Tennessee. He's a long way from pure country, but the strains of middle America inform nearly all the songs in his repertoire. Exceptions occur when he wanders over to the jazz side of the tracks, as in the appropriately titled "The City Caught Me in Its Arms," where his voice gets to play in and out of saxophone sound.
Between study and practice, Graves seems to be on the slow and steady road to success. At 28, he's a regular on bills around the Bay Area, both solo and with his trio and quartet. He's had gigs as far and wide as Oslo and Nez Perce, Idaho (at the International UFO Conference, oddly enough for this down-to-earth musician), sharing the stage with notables and winning the prizes that are stepping stones to the kind of recognition he deserves. It's probably the only way he'll get much recognition; rather than as radio singles, his songs are best taken together, one rolling into the next. Heard that way, they conjure up the feel of a long walk with a comfortable lover: The scenery changes, but the feeling is the same.