Sunday, November 11, 2007

Music of the Week — November 11, 2007

Patty Griffin: Impossible Dream

Patty Griffin can do everything. She has one of the best voices in popular music, going with apparent effortlessness from a fully sung whisper to a bluesy croon to a roof-lifting shout to a Dolly Parton warble. If she chose to specialize in blues or country or rock, she’d be in the first rank of the genre; instead she pulls them all into her own style (which generally gets her lumped into the “singer-songwriter” category, but that doesn’t begin to describe her). And she’s not one of those sad songbirds gifted with a tremendous physical talent but little or no artistic sense. She’s a gifted writer, and I’ve deliberately left the prefix “song-“ off that word. Popular music is almost as much a lyrical art as a musical one, and like a good poet or novelist she has a deep and powerful artistic vision, and the judgment to shape it effectively.

This is the fourth of her studio albums. Unusually for me, I’ve heard them in the order they were released, and I think this is the best (there’s one more, Children Running Through, that I haven’t heard yet). I might have to make room for it on my desert island list. Even more than was the case with its predecessor, 1000 Kisses, everything seems important and in its proper place, so that the lesser songs like “The Rowing Song” still seem as if they should be here, and right where they are. I’m not going to say much about the emotional territory the album covers; you really have to hear it. Like the two Emmylou Harris albums I was raving about a few weeks ago, this one reaches way down. I don’t even want to name standout tracks, except to say that if you can listen to “Mother of God” without getting choked up you’re tougher than I am.

I spent a little while looking for a YouTube clip to serve as an introduction for those who haven’t heard her, and didn’t find anything from this album that really shows what her voice can do—all I could find were concert clips with terrible sound. But here’s the opening track. It’s pretty straightforward musically, and unrepresentative in that it’s the most up-tempo song on a generally meditative album, but the sound is decent and the lyrics are a good indication of the album’s general theme: the dream may be impossible, but she isn’t giving up on it.

Samples of all songs available at the album’s eMusic page

Several full songs at MySpace, though none from this album.

By the way, I have trouble believing that she grew up in Maine. This is not what I would expect music from New England to sound like. I would have bet heavily that she was a southerner.

(And thanks to Robert for introducing me to her music.)

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