Patty Griffin: 1000 Kisses
Although I can’t claim to have heard all the competition, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that Patty Griffin has one of the very best voices in pop music. She has prodigous strength and range and tone and control, with a lower register bound to produce odd spinal sensations in any human male who can hear, but unlike some singers with comparable natural gifts, she has taste and intelligence and sensitivity to the song. Moreover, she’s a terrific songwriter herself. All of this is rather unfair to those of us who aren’t so gifted, particularly to songwriters who don’t sing very well and singers who don’t write very well. Our compensation is that we get to listen to her.
Her first album, Living With Ghosts, is only voice and guitar and while it’s an impressive feat it feels stripped down. Her second, Flaming Red, is excellent but goes too far in the other direction: it’s over-produced, with that over-crowded and glossy sound that major studios seem to produce often and which sometimes seems—to me, anyway—to render the music somehow remote and untouchable, like something encased in plexiglass. This one, 1000 Kisses, is just right, production-wise. She’s backed by a small acoustic ensemble that plays subtly and sparsely, giving her voice plenty of room. The sound is big, open, and clear. The material runs the gamut from good to very very good. My particular favorite is a cover of a Bruce Springsteen song, “Stolen Car,” and it’s a testimony to her skill that she’s utterly convincing in it even though the lyric is from a first-person male point of view; in fact I don’t recall, on first listen, even thinking about the disparity until the song was over. I suspect she’d be capable of taking ownership of most any song in that way, if she liked it enough to go the trouble.
The album as a whole doesn’t quite come together in the way that makes a real classic. To my taste the material falls off a bit toward the end, and “Mil Besos,” sung in Spanish and more elaborately arranged than the other songs, seems out of place. But the first two-thirds or so is about as good as this kind of music can ever be.