Austin, Texas based Patty Griffin is a Grammy-Award winning artist who has achieved great acclaim for her songwriting as well as her powerful voice. Her first two albums, Living With Ghosts and Flaming Red are considered seminal albums in the singer-songwriter genre, while Children Running Though won Best Album and led to her being named Best Artist at the 2007 Americana Music Awards. She won the Grammy for Downtown Church, her 2010 gospel album. Her songs have been covered by a myriad of artists including Emmylou Harris, The Dixie Chicks, Joan Baez and Bette Midler.
The first quiet piano notes of the title track of Patty Griffin’s new album, Servant Of Love evoke a sense of mystery. “I want to live by your ocean/Moved by the waves/No one can see.” Go further into this haunting, jazz-steeped meditation, and that sense turns into a spell. With lulling piano, fathoms-deep bowed bass and improvisational trumpet floating above like a swooping gull, Griffin conjures the call of the depths in literal and metaphorical terms (“words from the deep, calling to me…”) and invites us on her odyssey to answer that call.
Very much in the traditions of American transcendental writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, and mystical poets like Rumi and Rainer Maria Rilke, Patty Griffin grounds her themes of love and mystery in the experience and rhythms of the everyday, the stuff of life. Servant Of Love takes on big ideas, but does so in the vernacular of folk tales, blues cants and jazz gestures. Griffin’s characteristic expressive vocals—equal measures passion and poignancy—and her potent songwriting blur the lines between the personal, the spiritual and the political. These songs move and persuade while they dive deep.
Over her nine previous albums, Patty Griffin has proven herself a writer of uncommon perception, with a genius for character-driven storytelling. On this, her tenth, she brings that genius to bear on her over-arching themes. The same trans-migrated soul seems to inhabit the characters in these songs, all different, yet all walking the same beat, speaking from the same source: the storyteller herself, of course, but also, the album suggests, a greater source. A source we reject at our peril. That melting polar ice cap in “You Never Asked Me”? That’s no metaphor. That’s the real world consequence of our spiritual deficit.
The video below is When it Don’t Come Easy (Live at the Artists Den).