Saturday, February 6, 2010

All Things Patty: Part Three

The four years between Patty Griffin's balls-to-the-wall "Flaming Red" and 2002's breakthrough "1000 Kisses" was rife with fuel for songwriting. A tour with the Dixie Chicks propelled her from playing modest gigs to arenas. She appeared on television shows to promote her album. She'd garnered a glimpse of notoriety only to have it swept out from under her during a label merge. When her third album (fourth, if you count the produced version of "Living With Ghosts" that was scrapped in favor of the demo) was shelved she negotiated her way out of a record deal. Determined to not let label politics get the best of her, Patty was at guitarist Doug Lancio's doorstep in Austin to record the songs that would eventually make up "1000 Kisses."

Recorded in five days, the 10-song collection
is a reintroduction of sorts. Up until then, Patty had shown she could craft songs that were brilliantly crafted to fit her voice and also push her vocals to their limits amidst a wall of sound. She exerts far more restraint here and it benefits the album substantially. Starting with the tranquil, sonically wet lullaby "Rain"--arguably her most popular single to date. Patty uses her voice to convey strength in the most fragile way.

"Kisses" is actually the only Patty album to receive multiple video treatments, and "Chief" was the second--it even earned airtime on CMT. But while the song reached substantial popularity, it was never a favorite when I first played the album. The pitter-pattering verses seemed like a rushed attempt to get to the bridge and then it was over. It took me several listens to wrap my mind around this tune, an when I finally did it revealed itself as the poignant, maddening, heart-swelling poem it is.

"Well I wish that you could see me when I'm flying in my dreams
The way I laugh there way up high, the way I look when I fly
The way I laugh, the way I fly..."

The funny thing about these songs is how they quietly creep into your subconscious. They can leave you completely flattened--like the desolate beauty of Springsteen's "Stolen Car"-- and they can also bring an odd cheerfulness to something as hard as losing a loved one ("Long Ride Home"--it's more hootenanny than hymnal.) But that's the beauty of Patty Griffin--she finds the lightness in even the darkest of places.

And then there is a different breed altogether with "Nobody's Crying." The minute that chord rings out the tone is dramatically set for a vocal tour-de-force. It is, I think, one of the finest examples of Patty's songwriting. There's a sense of loss conveyed that is also underlined with the hope for reconciliation. Maybe not today, but soon.

Patty Griffin "Nobody's Crying"
[Recorded on March 8, 1998 at the Cactus Cafe in Austin, Texas.]

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