Acclaimed singer songwriter Patty Griffin has just released her ninth studio album Servant Of Love. Based in Austin Texas, Griffin the songwriter has been recognised through faithful covers of her songs by Emmylou Harris, The Dixie Chicks, Joan Baez and Bette Midler.
Griffin the singer and performer has been acclaimed as a Grammy-award winner (Best Gospel Album for 2010’s Downtown Church) and a 2007 dual Americana award winner (Best Album – Children Running Through – and Best Artist). To my way of thinking, she has delivered, over almost twenty years, a catalogue that is among the most consistently rewarding I’ve heard from anyone over that period.
Servant of Love was produced by Griffin and Craig Ross and recorded at Church House Studios in Austin. Thirteen tracks are contained herein which provide further proof (if that was actually required any more) that Griffin’s creative freedom remains unfettered (the album is under her own independent label PGM via Thirty Tigers).
The music here is defiantly diverse. An artist like Patty Griffin is consummate evidence that classic music genres do not apply much anymore. What we have here is just about everything, and it is all glorious – Van Morrison stream-of-consciousness reflections, jazz and lounge, blues, passionate soul, growling guitar, love ballads, a little middle eastern mysticism, and delicate folk.
The opening, title track is slow and majestic, predominantly with just piano, and a powerful attestation of action ‘Carry me away, I am a servant of love’. “Gunpowder” has an infectious strident shuffle, peppered with Ephraim Owens‘s muted trumpet. “Good and Gone” contains a Mediterranean shuffle, with intricate guitar interplay. There’s electric guitar and Griffin’s soaring vocals adorning “Hurt A Little While” which is about loss and its aftermath, with mixed messages here – chanting what it might take to get over the pain and it seems like it is going to take quite a bit, but there is some underlying optimism ‘One of these days… I’m gonna smile’.
The track “250,000 miles” is compelling. Quietly introduced, it swells and ebbs, with drums making a potent entrance and Shawn Colvin lends sublime vocal support. “Made Of The Sun” looks back longingly on a favourite friend in the past, special cherished moments, extraordinary times never forgotten – it is mightily evocative.
“Everything’s Changed” has a incessant hypnotic and beautiful rhythm and a message of inevitability:
There ain’t nothing coming down the muddy river
Just an oil slick and the smell of fear
I heard strange music coming down the muddy river
The last night before these years
“Rider of Days” is more familiar territory for Griffin. Lilting guitar, flying voices and David Pulkingham‘s acoustic guitar riding above imperiously:
We come to no harm
My darling I miss you
And I always will
I dream of you always
Hill after hill
I am but a rider
A rider of days
“There Isn’t One Way” offers some strong advice, words of which we could all take heed: ‘You want to have a little style? Keep the kindness in your heart‘. “Noble Ground” has a jazz groove and allows Griffin’s renowned voice a little stretch, the piano, trumpet, bass and drums perfect accompaniment.
A quick change of pace to “Snake Charmer”, a quick-time walk. Ross’s baritone guitar adding an important dimension. “You Never Asked Me” is just vocal and piano and is seriously sad, a relationship doomed (‘an exercise in catastrophe…a dance of destruction’), one that was never going to work – ‘I might have told you that, if you’d ever asked me‘.
Servant Of Love is not as accessible immediately as some of her earlier material. It takes a few listens to unlock some of the poeticism, but it is well worth the effort. There’s more embellishment here than in many of Griffin’s past outings. All tracks brim with intense feelings, engaging patterns and textures, all carefully assembled, all featuring one of the best voices in American music today.
Another important statement from an adept and fearless artist.