Thursday, November 5, 2009

All Things Patty: Part One

It was almost four years ago when I first heard of Patty Griffin. My sister dragged me to a late showing of Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown”. Clearly, I was not interested when I entered the theater. As the film unfolded, though, I found the music irresistibly good. I had my keys in hand the minute the credits rolled, ready to buy that soundtrack. I did, and immediately tore open the plastic wrapping, slid it into my car stereo and gripped the wheel. It was everything I needed at that moment—musically and personally. I listened to that soundtrack every day, and eventually decided I should seek out a few of the artists on their own turf.

I found Patty’s “Impossible Dream” at a Best Buy inside Gulf View Mall. It was the only copy left and I remember holding it in my hands, flipping it over to read the track listing and being completely enamored with the artwork.

And then it sat on my CD shelf for months. It wasn’t until I bought the 2003 live album-- “A Kiss in Time”--for $6 at a Sam Goody closing sale and fell completely in love with this woman’s charming presence that I revisited my first Patty purchase.

“Impossible Dream” is, quite possibly, my favorite album by any artist. It’s definitely my favorite of Patty’s and has stood up to repeated listens time and time and time again. The stories never tire, the melodies never wane and that voice never ceases to completely rip me to pieces.

It begins with the moody bayou gospel of “Love Throws a Line”. Patty said this song was inspired by her love of gospel—which she considers to be some of the most inspirational music written. I may not be adept in gospel, but if this is Patty’s attempt at coping with sadness, it succeeds. Those hand claps just work for me—not to mention the sublime choir of voices that harmonize on the chorus.

She follows it superbly with the stark “Cold as It Gets.” There is nothing happy about this song. There is nothing beautiful about it. It is harsh, sparse and incredibly effective. The thoughts of a Holocaust survivor are interpreted through the stunning, yet focused vocal. The song is so deliberately restrained that I can only imagine a person singing these words who has held on to this grudge for decades, waiting for the day they can avenge the dead.

I'd hate to single out a particular track as a favorite because I rarely listen to them individually, but "Top of the World" is one of Patty's most recognizable songs for a reason. Lifted from 2002's unreleased album --"Silver Bell"--and stripped down to the bones, the lyrics immediately grab your attention.

I wished I was smarter, wished I was stronger;
wished I loved Jesus the way my wife does;
I wished it had been easier instead of any longer;
I wished I could've stood the way you would've been proud,
but that won't happen now, that won't happen now...

Regret is a hard thing to capture in music, but Patty brings this sentiment to life so vividly that it never ceases to send chills up my spine.

I could go on about these songs for days. The placement and pacing of each track is exquisite and extremely emotionally charged. For me, this is an album that never peaks. It continues to build on a foundation of incredible songwriting ("Useless Desires", “Florida”), visceral production (“Mother of God”) and delivery (“When It Don’t Come Easy”) that leaves you utterly baffled by the final strums of the gorgeous closing ballad “Icicles.”

Basically, if you picked up no other artist from this blog than Patty Griffin, I'd be content.


heather said...

ok, so i hopped over here from your comment on my site (i figured out it was jeff buckley's birthday on the 17th right *after* i posted that post, not even kidding - it was a random coincidence that neatly worked). we have many musical loves in common. i've never written much about patty griffin, but i do agree that top of the world is one of the saddest songs ever written (to whisper goodbye, go to work in the rain, i don't know why, don't know why.... something in that specific line, the mood it captures, just *wrecks* me. just this tangible ache).

also, lately i've been hung up on her song "mary." do you know that one? the lines about "jesus said mother i couldn't stay another day longer, he flies right by and leaves a kiss upon her face. while the angels were singin his praises in a blaze of glory, mary stays behind and up the place." the whole song is gorgeous. i love how patty can excise emotions from uncommon places, or things you've never thought about how they might feel.

long comment. thanks for this post.

Anonymous said...

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