'Patty Griffin' review: A vivid and extremely personal offering from music's very own Wonder Woman
Grammy Award winner Patty Griffin collaborated with the legendary Robert Plant on her eponymous album that showcases her command over music
Patty Griffin is no stranger when it comes to unraveling her life through her songs and her music has just the right amount of mystery in it to keep listeners intrigued and their curiosity aroused.
Patricia Jean Griffin, aka Patty Griffin, couldn't have chosen a better time to drop an EP with her 55th birthday just days away. Released on March 8, the 13-track record showcases the veteran songstress' command over music and her ability to add magic to the simplest of tunes with such finesse.
The album is a nod to her immense repertoire of music she produced over 27 years which aged gracefully from stripped-down folk and American music to becoming modern folk infused with blues and gospel. Patty sings about diverse themes ranging from love and death, heartache and joy, to connection and detachment.
The eponymous EP is the 10th studio album of the acclaimed singer-songwriter and the first after a long and hard-fought battle with breast cancer. The Grammy Award winner, best known for dabbling in the classics ('1000 Kisses', 'Children Running Through') to the gospel genre ('Downtown Church'), recorded this self-titled offering at her home studio in Austin, Texas, and released it on her own PGM Recordings label via Thirty Tigers.
Roping in her longtime collaborator Craig Ross as co-producer and the legendary Robert Plant contributing backing vocals to the tracks 'What Now' and 'Coins', the artiste puts together some of her most excellent work in this highly developed magnum opus. With Patty leading on the Spanish classical guitar, the band also features Ross, guitarist David Pulkingham, drummer/percussionist Conrad Choucroun, cellist Lindsey Verrill and pianist Stephen Barber.
Launching off with a melancholic acoustic delivery, 'Mama's Worried' is proof of how Patty loves to tease listeners with her deviant themes. A voice of concern by a worrisome woman character, the song may perhaps be an odd theme to launch an EP, but that's Patty Griffin to you. Always piquing curiosity with her compositions.
The second song 'River' is no different, albeit with a different nuance. The writing of which, Griffin says, was inspired by 'A Song for You', penned by Leon Russell and recorded by late soul singer Donny Hathaway. 'River', in fact, offers a glimpse of the essential Patty Griffin. The harmony-heavy guitar strumming picks up brightly, deviating into accidental chords and minor notes, tugging at heartstrings as she sings "She's a River".
Patty really opens up in the first song she wrote for the EP, releasing all her vocal prowess as the narrative receives an uplifting anthemic treatment on the aquatic personification of a woman. The joyful "oohs" that accompany the scintillating lead towards the song's middle is just one example of how Patty's intelligent songwriting has seasoned effortlessly with age and experience.
'Where I Come From' takes a country road-esque path, with a peppy bluesy, folksy mixed undertone — even as she paints a picturesque view of life in Old Town, her home in Maine, not far from the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation. Here's where it becomes clear that the EP is not just a celebration of Patty's many takes on life, but also a toast to moments in her own life story. The scenic landscape she paints with the bright hues of the song takes us home, as she sings "The September sun / Colors boldly flying / Pretty reds, orange, gold, and brown".
'Hourglass' streams in with hard-hitting single note down strums. "Life keeps turning around", a reedy-voiced Patty sings in what's now her comfort zone as the music holds you in a trance. The soundscape itself takes a swing turn and foxtrots in with peppy trombone licks — a perfect dance number. You'll find yourself shaking a leg or two as the two-by-four song unleashes a dreamy nostalgia groove, reminiscent of a vintage dance floor with men in bell-bottom suits and women in flowing skirts.
Near midway in the EP, Patty slows down to switch to reflection in 'Had A Good Reason'. And with good reason too, as Patty offers a glimpse of her dream, singing: "The world is mine / and it's a microphone in my hand / Singing with a band / the toast of the town"
'Bluebeard' is where Patty truly shines. Her version of the traditional murder ballad, the song transcends into another dimension, taking listeners to the high seas. The two guitars strum vigourously as the song narrates a tale of a young woman swept away in love by a lover who turns out to be a villain in disguise. As he comes to take the woman's life, nature's elements come together and slay the man, with the woman standing tall and victorious in the end, living life on her own terms, a "Maiden No More".
Patty stays by the sea in 'What Now', a breezy free-flowing song where the strings take complete control, landing wave after wave of sparkling notes.
She meanders to her next favorite instrument, the piano, in 'Luminous Places'. The sun is down, the moon is high in the sky and the song comes alive as she sings of the night: "It falls out of the sky in millions of pieces on me" backed by the grappling strains of the cello and guitar. A revelatory song, the gospellic treatment makes it one for a performance under the spotlight, arching and ebbing full of life.
'Coins', on the other hand, comes under a different light, with her longtime stage partner Robert Plant adding his magical essence to the song, the collaborative effort is heavy with intonations. Patty dives into the vibrant acoustic guitar plucked composition that ebbs and flows with mystery as she offers a take on wages and the power of money in society.
A nod to poor, Irish immigrants, 'Boys from Tralee' is a heavy folk rendition. Except for the sad narrative, telling the sing-song tale of boys making a journey across the sea in hope of a job and a future, the song itself is one you will hear around a campfire, with merry dancing. The guitars blaze together in a kind of rough jam, with percussive beats riding in. While "Lucky boys who did survive the cruel deeds of cruel men / Lived a short and lonely life in a foreign land," is noted for a sad reception, the instrumentation makes for an exciting listen.
The rhythms take over in 'The Wheel'. Yet another golden song, the song builds up as the tempo peaks and the instruments gallant away in a merry jam. A high-energy routine, the composition rides high on instrumental innovation, constantly upping the melodic inventory. As it leaps into a loop, it reminds you that life, after all, goes full circle, and just like a wheel, it keeps "a-going round and around".
'What I Remember' is, of course, about memories. A poignant throwback to our numbered days, Patty shows off her songwriting ingenuity as she croons: "Life is a foreign land / Impossible to understand / Once we had the precious bird in hand / And let him slip away." You'd expect Patty to end on a high note. That's where she surprises you again. Taking to the piano for a gentle conclusion, the singer gracefully finishes with 'Just The Same'. The smooth song, mellow yet heavy comes gently caressing with the notes as she sings a song that no longer about her. This is a song about us: "We weren't the worst and we weren't the best / And just beneath it all, maybe a little good". A song that makes you realize, "Maybe we're just the same after all."
This one hits deep home. It's a love song, it's a moving delivery from the heart. A song for friends, for family, for loved ones, even strangers, a song for lovers, for everyone. A song that unites people as well as breaks down barriers. It ends too soon, too abrupt, and you wonder why. That's the magic Patty leaves listeners with — a sense of longing and belonging, a quest to hear and know more — and probably yearn for another listen to this marvelous record.
Check out Patty Griffin's new album 'Patty Griffin' here and her coming tour dates below.