Patty Griffin – Servant of Love (ALBUM REVIEW)

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pattygriffinPatty Griffin has never been what one might term ostentatious. Her albums take on a stripped down approach that leaves plenty of room for honest emotion to take hold. Her famous associations not withstanding — an on and off touring collaboration with Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris and Shawn Colvin as well as her musical partnership to Robert Plant — she’s always been her own woman, eschewing mainstream melodies in favor of her tattered, sometimes troubled persona.

That said, she’s set a mighty high bar for herself over the course of her career. With equal success as both a songwriter and a singer, her songs have been tapped by Emmylou Harris, Ellis Paul, Rory Block and the Dixie Checks, artists that can comfortably afford to pick and choose their sources. The Americana Music Association cited her as Artist of the Year in 2007 and bestowed Best Album honors for the album she produced that year, Children Running Through. Her last album, Downtown Church, raised her profile even further, garnering a Grammy nod as Best Traditional Gospel Album.

Not bad for an artist making her first foray into that arena.

Then again, Griffin makes it a point not to shy away from taking chances, albeit at a low key level. Her latest effort, Servant of Love, finds her traipsing into metaphysical terrain, keeping the accompaniment suitably restrained while centering her songs on the transcendental themes of great American poets and philosophers like Emerson and Whitman. “I don’t believe in love,” she coos on “You Never Asked Me,” a sorrowful piano ballad that comes towards the end of the set. It’s a sad sentiment that she expresses of course, but the larger embrace of worldly notions, those having to do with harmony and contemplation, suggest she’s got a greater grasp on the universe that surrounds her.

Indeed, as its title implies, Griffith isn’t so much concerned with temporal matters as she is with the spectral forces and influences that underpin the roots of emotions, motivations, drive and determination. Songs like “250,000 Miles” and “Everything’s Changed” take on a mystical quality, the former sounding like a graveyard soliloquy recited in the predawn silence, the latter all wistful and carefree, full of quiet, casual resolve. Much of the rest of the album finds Griffith intoning some meditative blues, a sound well suited to her quiet concerns with no dire delivery intended.

Griffin’s often referred to as a folk singer, and here again, her spare, downcast disposition reinforces that impression musically, tunefully and purposely as well. Like those before her prone to ruminate on life’s mysteries, she delivers her narratives with conviction and concern. If the message is sometimes muted in what often appears a sort of nocturnal haze, it still serves the purpose, even when a song such as “Servant of Love” with its tentative piano lines and muted trumpets seems more suited to a twilight chanteuse. All in all, the autumnal ambiance becomes her. A thing of such striking and beguiling beauty, it makes this Servant of Love practically impossible to take for granted.

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2 Responses

  1. Regarding: “Her last album, Downtown Church, raised her profile even further, garnering a Grammy nod as Best Traditional Gospel Album.”

    Just a heads up her last record is “American Kid” and is incredible if you have not heard it.

  2. Agreed Dan. Never had a cd by patty griffin I didn’t love. Newest was no exception. I can’t wait for the next. Gives me pride to see Texas talent shine like this. Griffin’s quoted in many reviews I read as being ” at the top of her game”. I don’t know what the top of her game is, I just know that I look forward to her work more than any musical artist I listen to. Someone made the comment once that she was a force of nature. I would add a devistating one. That’s one snake charmer that said it would be good and delivered.

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