- Cambria Harkey
- Patty Griffin
I’ve never cared much for the music of Patty Griffin, and in recent years I’ve tried harder and harder to, thanks largely to the excellent folks she’s been working with—Buddy Miller, Robert Plant, Shooter Jennings, John Doe, and Gurf Morlix, among others. But until I heard her terrific new album, American Kid (New West), I just got bored. She’s a wonderful songwriter with a pretty voice, but I’ve found her records too slick and ethereal, pushing folksy, rootsy sensibilities toward polished pop. She’s a member of Band of Joy, Plant’s current band, and when they toured in 2011 they took along the North Mississippi Allstars, who at that point consisted only of brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson (on guitar and drums, respectively).
They prove to be the wild card on American Kid that makes the record appealing to me, injecting some well-placed grit and twang into the proceedings, putting me in the mind of more recent work by Emmylou Harris and Julie Miller. On a song like “Ohio,” which you can hear below, the distinctive voice of Plant shadows Griffin’s own pristine instrument, his harmonies scuffing up the blend, while on a hard-charging, blues-driven song like “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida,” the guitars do the damage. Most of the songs were inspired by the 2009 death of the singer’s father, but her musings rarely fixate on a specific subject, instead meditating on mortality, spirituality, and the meaning of family (including a devastatingly effective take on the Lefty Frizzell classic “Mom & Dad’s Waltz”). Griffin has tackled heady, serious subject matter before, but in my experience the production style of earlier records had buffed much of the heft away—here the warts are visible. It’s a fantastic piece of work.