Monday, March 27, 2006

Patty Griffin -- Impossible Dream

Two-time Grammy nominee (always the maid of honor and not yet a bride) Patty Griffin tours endlessly, honing her performances and retelling her stories to sold out shows across the U.S. The recently turned-42 singer pours herself into each show, releasing the emotional latch on the suitcase of her lyrics just before she strides onto the stage with an unmeasured precision and power only a truly gifted singer can unleash night after night. She's touring the east coast in April with some dates in the south and California later this summer.

Unassuming on stage, her physical stature is sparse in contrast to her soaring heart-wrenching guitar and vocals. She stands at the mic, a waif-like strawberry-blonde with a powering alto voice crooning out slice-of-life stories to tempos both fast and slow, hard and soft.

I was torn for years about the greater worth in a Patty Griffin collection between Flaming Red and 1000 Kisses and was somewhat underwhelmed by Impossible Dream (she also released a live CD, A Kiss in Time, in 2003) Patty is certain to please if you connect with her storytelling yet wanes with time as shows become somewhat mundane. Perhaps I expect too much from this prolific songwriter/singer? Perhaps ... although she still puts on one hell of a fantastic show for those who are new to her art. I've seen her no less than six times so maybe I just experienced "Patty burnout." She is currently writing songs for an upcoming CD without a release date.

I saw her perform alongside some really standout acoustic performers with the "Concerts for a Landmine Free World" 2001 tour which was done round robin style with all of them sitting on stage next to each other and I have to say, she really stole the show from the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bruce Cockburn, Steve Earle, and Nanci Griffith. There was a very pronounced hush when it was her turn to sing: it was as if the entire hall sensed something amazing around the bend. We weren't disappointed each time Patty performed previews to her gorgeous 1000 Kisses melodies alongside gems from Flaming Red and her debut, Living with Ghosts.

Living with Ghosts, released 10 years ago, was recorded much like Michelle Shocked's Texas Campfire Songs, a raw demo tape made in her kitchen. It was almost released in a highly edited, band heavy, format but she fought that battle and won. At one point, you can hear a siren wailing outside. It's pure Patty and glorious in her stripped down essence.

Flaming Red, her most rocking CD to date, was released two years later followed by an unreleased Silver Bells in 2000, some of which was re-worked and re-titled 1000 Kisses, an acoustic set of intensely personal stories, released in 2002. Dave Matthews met her during an Austin City Limits recording in 2000 and was so blown away by her talent that he asked her to join ATO records to release 1000 Kisses. Her live CD, Kiss in Time, came out in 2003, and Impossible Dream hit the airwaves in 2004.

Incidentally, she never got the master tapes to Silver Bells but the songs are actively traded online. Her exposure as an act in the Lilith Tour and several recordings by the Dixie Chicks and Emmylou Harris helped catapult her career to larger audiences. Two Grammy nominations for Best Contemporary Folk Album didn't hurt either (one for 1000 Kisses and one for Impossible Dream).

Thunderous applause meets her live performances of "Making Pies" and "Let Him Fly." Not many artists can pen a song about masturbation ("Wiggley Fingers" from Flaming Red) and receive artistic merit for such mental meanderings but Patty sure can. She has also written about Native Americans in "Chief," the inspiration for which probably stemmed from her youth in Maine growing up next door to the Penboscot Indian Reservation.

One of her more talked about songs is "Tony," a song about a young girls' observations in her homeroom seat behind a misfit teenager who takes his own life. Clearly, she feels the tug of how unfair life can be, especially to the innocent. This song does a good job of exposing how incredibly Patty can spin a life incident into a song any listener can "see" and connect with through images. We've all known a "Tony."

"Does anyone remember Tony?
He was a quiet boy, a little over weight
He had breasts like a girl
When I wasn't too busy feeling lonely
I stared over his shoulder at a map of the world
He always finished all his homework
Raised his hand in homeroom
For the morning attendance
And to pledge allegiance to the gloom

Hey Tony what's so good about dying?
(He said I) think I might do a little dying today
He looked in the mirror
Saw that little faggot staring back at him
Pulled out a gun and blew himself away

I hated every day of high school
Funny I guess that you did too
It's funny how I never knew
There I was sitting right behind you
They wrote in the local rag
Death comes to the local fag
So I guess you finally stopped believing
That any hope would ever find you
I knew that story I was sitting right behind you

Hey Tony what's so good about dying?
Think I might do a little dying today
He looked in the mirror
Saw that little faggot staring back at him
Pulled out a gun and blew himself away

He pulled out a gun and blew himself away
He pulled out a gun and blew himself away


I'd suggest starting your adventure with Patty Griffin by listening to Living with Ghosts and then proceeding onto Flaming Red in huge doses followed by a healthy dollup of 1000 Kisses. Repeat as needed (and it's sure to be needed every so often as a yardstick against which you can measure other acoustic/folk/rockers).

Her website, Patty Griffin, is awful. She definitely needs to hire a better web designer. You'll learn more and get access to all of her lyrics on Patty Net. Another great site that includes a sign-up for a Patty Griffin mailing list is Patty Griffin Net. All Patty all the time.


Blogger bruce said...

I wanted to add something, but you pretty much said it all. She is one of my all time favorites and someone I've been going to see live since LWG 10 years ago. I must say that she seems to be coming out of a shell of sorts lately. Her last tour found her wigglying her hips and acting, dare I say, sexy. Add that to the voice and intense performance and it is devastating.
Silver Bell is easily my favorite unreleased CD. She performs both acoustic folk songs with psychedelic rock; all on one CD.
Hmmmm... I guess I did have something to say. :-)

7:35 PM  
Blogger Stacey said...

Hey Bruce! Thanks for comments. Do you know where we can find Silver Bells online? Sure would appreciate a link if you have one you can share. You're always such an encyclopedia of information about artists I like. Thanks for sharing.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you gave Impossible Dream more listens, because it gets better with time. Smartest current female artist around, hands down. Children Running Through releases Feb. 6.

12:21 AM  

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