Review by Wayne Donnelly
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CD Stock Number: ATO Records/BMG 79102-21504-2
With this third album, Patty Griffin's budding career is really beginning to flower. Her 1996 girl-and-her-guitar solo debut,
Living With Ghosts, contained a handful of striking songs that put her on my radar screen as a young artist worth watching, although there was a slightly whiny quality in her vocals that kept me and some other listeners from fully engaging with the songs. With the 1998
Flaming Red, Griffin recast herself as a rock/blues mama, kicking out the jams with the aggressive title song and several other up-tempo rockers. That approach worked surprisingly well, although careful attention to the lyrics suggested that her natural milieu was still the personal and emotional. "Mary," mixing personal sadness and religious imagery, is the standout song from that CD.
The rock band is gone on 1,000 Kisses. Griffin has returned to her singer-songwriter style, but with greater assurance and consistency in both songwriting and vocals. Eight of the nine songs here are by Griffin. On the one cover, Bruce Springsteen's "Stolen Car," she captures perfectly the narrator's fatalism and emotional emptiness -- The Boss would approve, I'm sure. Track 10, "Reprise," is not a song but a superfluous few seconds of random instrumental -- added, as far as I can tell, solely for the purpose of having 10 tracks. (The CD clocks in at a modest 39:45.)
"Rain" starts us off with Griffin's voice and acoustic guitar mic'ed very closely, and those two elements maintain center stage throughout. Even when other instruments accompany her, the overall feel is still that of a solo performance. Griffin's choice to cover "Stolen Car" is clearly not a random one -- the CD is generally somber in tone. There are several well drawn portraits: a shattered Native American Vietnam veteran ("Chief"), a woman stuck in a dead-end life ("Making Pies"), a widow in a hearse after the funeral ("Long Ride Home"). The other songs are laments and cautionary tales of
lovin' and losin': "Be Careful," ""No body's Crying," "Tomorrow Night." (Nobody would call Griffin perky.)
Despite the darkness of tone, the CD is not depressing -- far from it. Flashes of wit and wry humor emerge here and there, and "Mil
Besos," sung in passable Spanish, is warmly romantic. And even in the darkest songs one can enjoy the craft of Griffin's songwriting and the character of her tough-yet-vulnerable voice. The engineering is simple and appropriate to the scale of the songs. Hearing the CD on a couple of other systems, I detected a slight glare when Griffin pushes her voice, but on my system that effect does not appear unless the volume is turned up too loud.
If you like the female singer-songwriter genre, try this CD. Patty Griffin is a unique voice in today's popular music scene, and I don't think we've yet heard the last or the best of her.
Sound Quality: 89