Monday, 19 May 2014

April 2014 - Popular Music

Tori Amos
  • Under the Pink
  • Strange Little Girls
  • Scarlet's Hidden Treasures
  • Audience bootlegs - Lowell, MA 19 November 2002, Boston 12 April 2005
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
Sheryl Crow - Sheryl Crow
george - Unity
Patty Griffin - American Kid
Dave Matthews - Some Devil
Joni Mitchell - Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm
Nichole Nordeman - Woven & Spun
Pearl Jam - No Code

There is something about Patty Griffin that has made me approach her 2 albums released in 2013 very, very slowly.

It's not that the music only speaks to me when I'm in a certain mood, it's more that the music is potentially so powerful that I feel like I need to save it for a time when I'm wholly present. I don't want to do a Patty Griffin album the disrespect of listening casually and treating it like background music. Heck, I don't really like treating anything like background music, but it seems even more important with Patty because she is engaging in character studies. Studies of real characters, not fantastical creations. Stories you believe that someone's genuinely lived.

That's even more true of American Kid than usual, and it's difficult to avoid the thought that the person who has lived many of these stories is Patty's own deceased father. There are specific references to Boston and to fighting in the war that feel like part of a single autobiography, even when scattered across different songs (although I've discovered in the middle of writing this post that 'Get Ready Marie' is about her grandparents, not her father - but hey, that's still his family). And while she has inhabited male characters in songs before (more often than most female singers), it's even more prominent this time around.

It's an album that's both haunting and gutsy. It takes guts to start an album with a song about the end of life. 'Go Wherever You Wanna Go' celebrates death as a release from all the worries and hardships that life brings. And then it's followed up by a classic Griffin stomp called 'Don't Let Me Die in Florida'.

As for haunting, there are two songs prominently featuring Robert Plant that peaceful and ethereal, even though one of them, 'Ohio', depicts people on the run and ends with the thought that if the singer hasn't arrived by morning, it will be because (he's) dead.

It feels like the album doesn't really tread new thematic ground for Griffin. These are the same lost, lonely, tired people, holding onto their memories, that have inhabited quite a lot of her songs before. But I'm not sure that matters a lot when she delivers such beautiful justice and respect for these kinds of stories. Someone needs to remind us about thoroughly 'ordinary' people. It might as well be a woman with a soul-piercing voice.

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