Patty Griffin Is London’s Master For “Servant” Release
Three hundred yards away from Kings Place, one of London’s most celebrated and recently gentrified mainline railway stations, Kings Cross, funnels thousands and thousands of commuters and tourists into the City and out towards England’s wild Northern spaces. The area is a planner’s dream. High rise, modern buildings have replaced rundown Victorian red brick in a flurry of urban renewal that seems hell bent on re-writing history. No doubt, the prices have risen with them; such is the price of moving on.
One such building is the venue for one of Americana’s favourite daughters tonight, its high, white walls, glass atrium and minimalist spec as incongruous as its possible to be with Ms Griffin’s warm Austin Americana songs. It’s the day before her eleventh album, Servant Of Love, launches in the UK, and she’s here on a whistle-stop to introduce it. If anyone can turn the white walls red, it’s Patty.
It’s a sold out, sit down crowd that greets Patty and David Pulkingham to the stage, Griffin all in blue, her friend and guitarist sporting waistcoat and hat. They open facing each other, guitar necks low-slung and primed, turning to the mics on the beat to sing ‘Camivito’. They’re a little loose through the languid verses but by the time Griffin launches into the choppy ‘There Isn’t One Way’ shoulders have relaxed and timings are tight.
Follow-up ‘Gunpowder’ shares ‘..One Way’s’ woozy blues feel with a repeated melody underneath. Pulkingham is already wrestling arcane sounds from his six string, evoking the pain caused by the ‘dubious captains of industry’ Griffin introduces the song for. There’s plenty of early inter-play between the two, the noises from the stage challenging and at times purposefully discordant, as on the melody to ‘250,000 Miles’.
Servant Of Love is very much a departure from the Americana standards of American Kid and, prior to the gospel driven Downtown Church, Children Running Through. As such it’s unlikely to find as easy a transition into the hearts of fans as either of those, but may possibly be more rewarding in the long-term as a result. An almost exclusive run-through of the album tracks emphasises Griffin’s bravery (or a stubborn streak a mile wide); either are perfectly acceptable at this stage of her career. It’s also rare to find an artist with ten albums under her belt still searching and stretching in this way, and the crowd are patient, understanding the privileged position they are in.
That said, there’s still enough of a recognisable Griffin sound in the majority of the songs to ensure that the set is well received. ‘Rider Of Days’ – ‘I’m the president of my own label, so I asked myself what the single would be; it’s this one’ – chimes and chugs, ‘Noble Ground’ is stately; ‘Good And Gone’ hurt and bruised.
In-between we’re treated to a a fantastic rendition of Thomas Dorsey’s ‘Precious Lord’, Griffin lost behind a grand piano and lost within the words of ‘my latest new favourite song’. She stays seated for the album’s dark title track, as close to Tori Amos as you’re likely to hear outside Silence All These Years. Her recent tour with Mavis Staples gets a mention and she retreats from the experimental brink with beautiful versions of ‘Waiting For My Child’ and, during the encore, an audience requested ‘Heavenly Day’. ‘Hurt A Little While’ is testament to her continuing links to gospel, the new song equally sad and happy and a certain future live favourite.
Griffin and Pulkingham leave the stage to a welcome roar, clear evidence that her gamble (calculated or otherwise) has paid off. The considerable riches within her songbook are strengthened by Servant Of Love, and even as her muse looks elsewhere for nourishment, her fans are sure to stay right where they are. We’re all making for the City; Griffin is reaching for the wilder spaces.