the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Patty Griffin
eclectic reviews and opinions
(A&M Records, 1998)
Hey, I liked Patty Griffin's debut CD Living With Ghosts, enough so that it made it my Top 5 list for 1996. This new CD, however ... well, I don't like it. I LOVE it. A lot. I have to admit, an electric CD from someone I had pigeonholed as a folkie after one CD (yeah, my mistake, I know, I know ... ) certainly wasn't something I expected. Even more so, I didn't expect to be so captured by nearly every aspect of the CD. Where some CDs -- even very good ones -- seem to move from song to song, Flaming Red seems to unfurl, kind of like a stunning, brand new flag for a brave new country.
The CD is simply spectacular. Griffin's vocals, beautifully delivered on her debut, sound even better here, whether they are standing alone or lushly layered. The songs are amazingly well crafted; like the better of her contemporaries such as Jonatha Brooke and Lucinda Williams, Griffin has a fine ear for hooks, and the finely-tuned restraint not to overuse them. The production (by Jay Joyce) is top drawer as well, with the exception from some slightly heavy-handed excesses on a few of the slower cuts.
Patty certainly named the CD appropriately: this CD is flaming red hot, a scorcher, a cooker. Listen with asbestos earphones.
© 1998 Thom Frederick-Bittner
Living With Ghosts
(A&M Records, 1996)
It took this one a little while to grow on me, and initially I found a lot not to like about this acoustic singer/songwriter record: Griffin's voice, while servicable, isn't stellar -- reminds me a bit of Sheryl Crow/Rickie Lee Jones, not my favorite style. And while the songs are solid enough, Griffin's guitar playing is competent, but unimaginative. I also -- and this is very unfair -- was initially unimpresssed by the lyrics. It was too easy for me to half-listen, hear mostly the chorus of, say, "Poor Man's House," and conclude that the song was a trite exercise in political correctness. Anyway, it was the words, and the way the tunes have wormed their way into my brain, that finally won me over. Here's one of my favorite bits, from the opening of "Sweet Lorraine"
the fiery haired brown eyed schemer
who came from a long line of drinkers and dreamers
who knew that sunshine don't hold up to dark
whose businesses fail
who sleep in the park
Since it's such a frequent complaint of mine, I also want to point out that the production of this record is really outstanding. Patty sings and plays guitar. Two other guitar players play a little bit, on one song each, and that's it -- no drums, no bass, no keyboard "sweetening." Producer Steve Barry has definitely earned my respect for his restraint.
12 February, 1998
Metro Café (Washington, DC)
(Also see Jann Arden with Patty Griffin, Billy Mann, 14 July 1996)
(Also see Shawn Colvin with Patty Griffin, Freedy Johnston, 7 March 1997)
I've seen Patty Griffin open for people a few times but had never had a chance to see her headline, so I was really looking forward to this show. Braved the cold weather and the late night despite a nasty fevery kind of thing that had kept me out of work for a couple days. Partly, obviously, I wanted a chance to see her do more than a twenty minute set, but I also wanted to be with a crowd of people there specifically to see her. The audience when she opened for Freedy Johnston and Shawn Colvin was particularly rude, with several people talking loudly all through her set. The Metro Café, though, turns out to be very much a bar where they have live music, not a live music place where you can buy drinks. Folks were pretty loud throughout the opening acts, and indeed, pretty loud through Griffin's first several numbers.
At some point though, that rare, magic thing happened, and everybody shut up to pay attention. I don't know if you could have heard a pin drop, but I did hear a refrigerator door close -- it wasn't quite on the beat.
It was a worth-paying-attention-to show, too. In case I haven't danced enough elsewhere about Patty Griffin's architecture, she sings and plays acoustic guitar. Her songs are structured fairly conventionally, and her guitar playing, while certainly competent and energetic, isn't extraordinary. But her songs really are. Many of them are story songs, filled with exactly the sort of telling details that separates the cliched from the authentic and insightful, and performed with an interpretive intensity that makes them at times almost stunning. And it was a rare treat to see her perform for an audience that was actually into it. After one of the songs, she paused and said, "it's sort of hard to do a song about feeling sorry for yourself, which is sort of what that song's about, when everyone is singing along. It's really cool, though." It was. In addition to songs like "Mad Mission" and "Sweet Lorraine" from her debut release, Living With Ghosts, we got to hear several tunes from her just-recorded follow up, Flaming Red, due out in late spring or summer. mr. pathetic sez, "no sophomore slump detected."
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