Jon Dee Graham may not be a household name or even pack ‘em in at his weekly gig at the Continental Club in Austin, but his 1997 release, Escape From Monster Island, has clearly made him one of the state’s singer-songwriters that other singer-songwriters envy the most. Originally, his peers appreciated his selfless, low-key charm: With the Skunks in the seventies and the True Believers in the eighties (and later working with John Doe and Kelly Willis), Graham dutifully played the role of the quiet sideman. All told, it took him nearly twenty years to step out of the shadows with this collection of dark but deceptively hopeful narratives sung through a smoker’s cough and dedicated to the distance between him and his five-year-old son in California. Graham’s conviction and rugged eloquence shine: “Soonday” pleads “Don’t grow up so goddamn fast / wait a little while till I get home”; “Wave Goodbye” asserts “We thought you were so strong / but I think now we thought wrong.” Bummed out? Don’t be. Songs this universal wind up being nothing short of infectious, and the belated arrival of an artist this honest is worth celebrating then, now, and for years to come. by Andy Langer