Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 196: Patty Griffin

I've been working late this week, and doing a lot of writing. The plus side to this is - they pay me.

The minus side is that I sometimes feel drained and not up to writing for myself later. Fortunately, the latest disc has plenty to inspire.

Disc 196 is...Children Running Through
Artist: Patty Griffin

Year of Release: 2007

What’s Up With The Cover?: Another classically bad folk album cover. This one at least has some production value, and looks like it was done by a professional. It still comes off as hokey, and I think part of it is the dated outfit that Patty Griffin is wearing. It has that 'dated, but not quite dated enough to be cool' timeframe going on. If I'm wrong on this front, I'm sure Sheila will correct me, and I bow to her greater fashion knowledge.

How I Came To Know It: This album shows the power of connection in music. When I reviewed the soundtrack to "Elizabethtown" back at Disc 33, I noted how much I liked the Patty Griffin song, "Long Ride Home". When I reviewed the Dixie Chicks' album, "Home" at Disc 140, I was enthralled with "Top Of The World" which is a Patty Griffin cover.

I started looking for Patty Griffin albums, preferably with one or both of these songs, but the only one I could find was "Children Running Through". I was a little nervous, finding both the title and the picture uninspiring, but I bought it anyway, hoping it would be good - it was, and now I'm still looking for another of her albums (any album will do). They're damned hard to find.

How It Stacks Up: I loved this album, but as previously noted, I haven't been able to find anymore, so it sits on my shelf alone. Of the one album that I have, it's my favourite.

Rating: 4 stars but close to 5

Patty Griffin is a commercially unsuccessful folk artist with the voice of an angel. I was looking for other albums of hers today and I inadvertently saw her sales figures - it looks like she sells between 150,000 and 250,000 records per release. This is a travesty for such a great artist.

This album has only been in the collection for a few months, and I've probably heard it only about six or seven times. On my first listen I thought it was good, and every listen thereafter it has gotten better.

This is partly because on my first listen I had all kinds of preconceived notions about what Griffin 'should' sound like, based off the one song and two covers I'd previously heard (I also have the previously unmentioned Emmylou Harris cover of Griffin's "One Big Love"). It created a very one dimensional sense of what kind of artist I had bought - a soulful, soft spoken poet.

Griffin is that for sure, and this album has many standouts in that form. "Trapeze" is a song about a girl who runs away from a troubled past and joins the circus. It is touching, tragic and empowering all at once. It reminded me strongly of Guy Clark's "The Cape" about people who are fearless and put their hearts out there for everyone to see - and whether they get broken or not, you know they'll be stronger. As Griffin sings:

"Some people don't care if they live or they die
Some people want to know what it feels like to fly
They gather their courage and they give it a try
And fall under the wheels of the time going by."

"I Don't Ever Give Up" is a song about...never giving up (hey, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar). I know this song is one of those songs like Pearl Jam's "Alive" that is going to be there for me when I need it for years to come.

Where Griffin surprised me was with her more upbeat, bluesy tracks. I didn't expect it from her, and on the first listen it jarred a little - but only because it didn't fit my narrow expectations.

In fact, these songs are as strong as anything on the album, including "Stay On The Ride", "Getting Ready" and "No Bad News", the latter two forming a couple of the most upbeat sounding songs you'll ever find with which to dismiss a man who is bad news in your life. I expect they will be there for women who need them for years to come. If not, they'll be there for me as great art.

On a final note, this album has the original "Up To The Mountain (MLK Song)" which was beautifully covered by American Idol contestant Crystal Bowersox. Yes, I just admitted that I watched American Idol last year. I'm trying to stop, but my wife keeps putting it on, and I don't have the necessary willpower to just go read a book. Hopefully this year will be different.

If I ever needed a suitable tonic to kick my embarrassing AI habit, then Griffin's "Up To The Mountain" would be it. Crystal Bowersox is one of the most talented contestants Idol has ever had, and she killed this song. But after you hear Patty Griffin sing it, you won't settle for anything less. I found myself thinking about all the brave people, like Martin Luther King Jr. who go before us, and forge a path, heedless of danger. People we go up to the mountain with, simply because they ask us to - because it is not enough to be right, sometimes you've got to be brave too.

I found myself thinking about these things every time I listened to Patty sing this song. It is a microcosm of my experience with this record, which on each listen gets better.

The selfish part of me would like to have Patty Griffin as my own secret discovery (OK, not that secret - since Kelly Clarkson and Natalie Maines are both always singing her songs). However, to hoard her would be wrong - she deserves all the success in the world and more and she's not getting it.

So buy her records - but if you see another copy, please tell me where you saw it, because I'm a little desperate and going to Amazon always feels like failure.

Best tracks: Stay On The Ride, Trapeze, Getting Ready, Burgundy Shoes, No Bad News, Up To The Mountain, I Don't Ever Give Up, Crying Over

1 comment:

Sheila said...

I love her stuff - I only have "Stay on the Ride", "Burgundy Shoes", "Heavenly Day", "Up to the Mountain" and "I Don't Ever Give Up".

No "Heavenly Day"?

I like her outfit on the cover - it's sort of a Victorian look, which is a little bit eccentric, but is also more of a timeless look (if that's your bag). I have no issues with it. If I saw her coming down the street, I'd assume she was artsy.