Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Flaming Red

I first stumbled across Patty Griffin just after she'd released her second record, Flaming Red, and made an appearance on PBS's great, but short-lived series, Sessions at West 54th. At the time, I was struck by several things. One, she has an unbelievable voice, as pure and clear as an angel, and as soulful and expressive as a late-night juke joint diva. Two, she writes great songs - in fact, she was better known then (and maybe now) as a songwriter's songwriter (a number of her songs have been covered by other performers, including no less than three by the Dixie Chicks). And three, although she's been pegged as a country singer, she has way too much depth to be limited by any preconceived notions of genre.

Her first record, Living With Ghosts, was essentially her first demo released as is -- basically just her and her guitar and her little folk masterpieces (e.g., "Moses" and "I'm Gonna Let Him Fly"). The phenomenal follow-up, Flaming Red, was all over the place, serving up pure pop, folk, country, and flat-out rockers.

Her subsequent albums, 1000 Kisses and Impossible Dream are also studies in high quality songwriting and performance, but on her new record, Children Running Through, she really seems to come into her own. This record has the sound of a big-time mainstream release that should be devoured whole by the NPR and coffee shop crowd, and I will not be a bit surprised to hear it mentioned when the Grammy talk starts up again next year. Children is an excellent record, if significantly more polished than Ghosts or Flaming Red.

The record opens with the quiet "You'll Remember," a prelude that would have been the last song on anyone else's record. With its sparse accompaniment and lush melody, it sets the tone that this record is going to be a showcase for her spectacular voice. Things kicks of properly with "Stay On The Ride," a bluesy romp that is probably a high point in her live show. But next, there comes "Trapeze," a haunting country song featuring everyone's favorite background singer, the great Emmylou Harris. By the end of the song, these two great singers take things to a sublime level, with a chorus of resounding "Hallelujahs" that cast a long shadow over the rest of the record. The balance varies between folk ("No Bad News"), Americana rock ("I'm Getting Ready"), and sweet, quiet ballads ("Burgundy Shoes" and "Railroad Wings"), with an emphasis decidedly on the latter.

Children is a fairly "mature" record, meaning that it would probably sound good as background music at your next dinner party, but that would be a waste. This record deserves to have your complete attention. Check out the incredible duet with Emmylou below.

MP3: Patty Griffin (with Emmylou Harris) - "Trapeze" from Children Running Through.