Nurse releases album after quarter-decade in health care

Following your dreams is an idea usually reserved for starry-eyed youngsters, but Cathy Graham knows it's never too late to pursue a passion. She's set to release an album, Heart of a Prairie Girl, after more than 25 years as a fulltime nurse.

Graham grew up around music as one of eight children on a farm near Marsden. She wrote songs in her teens and even sang at a few weddings, but gradually those things fell away. She pursued a career in nursing, but her love of music remained.

More recently, she wrote the song Waltz Across the Prairies. It was a good song, she thought, so she took the time to record it right with her niece on lead vocals. The tune - which appears on Graham's new album - came out in 2008 and got play on local country radio.

"As people started to request it and ask for the single, I would either mail it or if it was in Saskatoon I would drop it off. So I got to meet people, which was really nice. They would ask me if I had any more music and that helped me get up the courage to get more songs ready to go," Graham said.

After working so hard on the songs, Graham wanted to make sure the quality matched, so she chose to go to Nashville. It wasn't an easy road. Graham had a transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke) just before she was supposed to go record. She took some stress leave from nursing and in that time finished two songs she had been struggling to complete.

"There's a silver lining to everything and they're two of my strongest songs on the album," she said.

When Graham was finally able to make it to Nashville, she said she remembers being terrified on the plane, wishing she could turn back. But the experience of working with producer Bobby Hyatt (formerly of Toto) and a talented group of session musicians was unforgettable. Because she was too nervous to sing, she hired professional singer Tania Hancheroff to voice the songs.

Graham describes the sound as soft, easy-listening country, which reflects her personality.

"I'm not exactly an in-your-face kind of person."

Writing Heart of a Prairie Girl was a healing experience for Graham. She was sexually abused many years ago. Graham describes the final song on the album, Phoenix From the Ashes, as her survivor song. "I don't want people to feel sorry me. I'm one of millions of people walking wounded. This is very cathartic for me," she said, pointing to the album.

Even though it makes her nervous, Graham plans to sing lead Wednesday at her CD release in Saskatoon. It's all part of the healing, she said.

Hyatt will fly to Saskatoon to perform with Graham, alongside a group of local musicians.

Graham has no plans to stop writing songs any time soon.

"I always struggled with sort of being a chicken, not ever busting out of the gates because I was always afraid someone would tell me I'm not good enough. This proves I am good enough." smckay@thestarphoenix.com

Cathy Graham Wednesday, 8 p.m. Village Guitar Amp Tickets $20 at the door