Friday, October 06, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 31: Patty Griffin - Living With Ghosts

Album: Living With Ghosts
Artist: Patty Griffin
Key Players: Patty Griffin - vocal/acoustic guitar; additional guitar (and arrangement) on “Let Him Fly” by Adam Steinberg; high string guitar on “Time Will Do the Talking” by Ty Tyler
Produced by: Steve Barry

Released: May 21, 1996

What caused me to blow the dust off this record? To be honest, I whisk dust off this CD often. I fell in love with Patty Griffin’s songs due to this album, and she is one of the best songwriters alive - a petite, forlorn songbird. I further confess that I know these songs by heart; I’m surprised the CD still functions. It is great driving music, or perfect for kicking back with a lonely nightcap.

Overview: Looking into the album’s history, it is ironic this album leads a cult following. I am merely speculating, but it may be Griffin’s least favorite record. The songs were first recorded with embellished arrangements by producer Malcolm Burn. Griffin loved both the production and her own artistry, but A & M disagreed. Instead, Griffin graciously offered to release her demos as an album, and this time A & M was pleased. Her vocals were polished with minimal production, so restrained you can even hear outside passing sirens on “Let Him Fly.” The album was a massive success, a magnet for loyal, drooling fans, but it incorrectly portrayed Patty Griffin as only a folk artist. She never felt like a folk singer, and vocals plus guitar do not equal folk only.

FDF Comments (a.k.a. the songs): I remember the first time my ears drank Griffin’s voice. While living in Austin, I left work, pulled onto Lamar St., and turned on the radio. I flipped to KGSR and heard her whisky voice and raw guitar. She belted out “Every Little Bit” which was so moving that my heart shifted to a new position of my anatomy. I was in a folk-only listening phase, and I admired the spartan sound of her voice and guitar, but she did not sound like an average folkie. I drove literally mesmerized by her voice, equal to any rock star’s wailing. I heard intensity alternated with vulnerability. My heart throbbed with empathy of her pain, and I could not forget such an epiphany of genius songwriting. The next day I sped to Waterloo Records and purchased Living With Ghosts.

The songs are lyrics of poetry, demanding red wine, two bottles at least. “Moses” opens the collection using Biblical imagery to sing angst. She starts with confident volume quickly escalating to screaming pleas:

Diamonds, roses, I need Moses
to cross this sea of loneliness,
part this Red River of pain.
I don’t necessarily buy
any key to the future or happiness,
but I need a little place in the sun sometimes
or I think I will die

Women pour another glass of wine to dull their own similar pain, but men love Patty Griffin’s sad anger, too. Sensual songs and visceral vocals are very attractive, as in the aforementioned “Every Little Bit:”

I can chew like a cannibal I can yell like cat.
I even had you believing I really, really like it like that,
but there was never a moment, not a moment
now you know, now you know, now you know,
you ever got within a hundred million miles of my soul.

I spit, I spit in the eye, I tear, I tear out my heart,
and I scatter the bits,
I stay unseen by the light, I stay untold by the truth
I’m sold by a lie,
By this I am able in all my travels
to make these memories quit
But tonight I clearly recall every little bit.

Griffin’s sensitive side is is also exposed, proving she’s not completely comprised of bitterness and anger. Redemption is found in “Forgiveness,” and compassionate charity in “Poor Man’s House,” a song based on her grandparents. All the while, her guitar prowess matches whatever sentiment she sings. There’s an innate symbiosis to her songwriting, and even she said, “Songwriting tends to come out of what I need to sing -- the sounds that need to come out of my body; it's the feel of the thing, the way it feels to sing.” I assume the way she plays proceeds from the way she needs to sing. She softly strums on the tragic lullaby-story “Not Alone,” and beats her guitar punk-style at the close of “Poor Man’s House.”

Where is she now? Patty Griffin is living in Austin, TX, and since Living With Ghosts, she released several stunning albums: Flaming Red; 1,000 Kisses; A Kiss in Time; and Impossible Dream. She is currently in the studio recording new songs, much to the delight of all.

FDF Personal Comments (a.k.a. the live experience): I am fortunate to have seen her twice; at the Texas Union Ballroom, and an upstairs bar, The Parish, on 6th street, both in Austin, TX. The show at the Ballroom was for the punk-rockish Flaming Red, and I further fell in love with her ability to easily vacillate between acoustic sound and electrified rock ‘n’ roll. Her show at The Parish was for 1,000 Kisses and she charmed everyone by singing “Mil Besos” in Spanish backed by Latin percussion. She is pretty much the coolest living female - from her songs down to her classic vintage clothing and shoes. I think I speak for most women: we want to be Patty Griffin.

FDF Overall Take: I find it hard to believe Living With Ghosts could ever be forgotten, but perhaps it is unknown to Patty Griffin newcomers. If you are a Griffin novice, invariably you must seek out Living With Ghosts. It is her classic, never-tiring album. It does not require a “best” label, but any fan of Patty Griffin reveres Ghosts on a musical altar. Once it gets you, it may slip your memory, but in God’s Providence you will remember, almost as if each song is a ghost, a musical apparition, friendly like Casper, whispering in your ear.



At 8:35 AM, Blogger Debbie said...

I absolutely love this album. Someone gave it to me to listen to and I've been hooked every since.

At 4:47 PM, Blogger The Guinness Tooth said...

Wow, this is the first FDF entry where not only had I not heard part of the album, but I've never even heard of Patti Griffin.

At 7:11 PM, Anonymous Another Patty G. fan said...

Great choice!! I've been a huge Patty fan for years now. I agree with you, she's is fabulous in concert - I've seen her a few times. I first saw her open for Shawn Colvin I think it was 1994. It was Patty alone with her guitar on a dark stage. She opened with "Sweet Lorraine".

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Hotwire said...

ok, i have chills reading this. patty is spectacular. i bought this cd when it came out even though i'd never heard of her. walking thru borders it was in the new music rack and the cover photo of her was haunting and when i got it hom i was hooked immediately, from moses to not alone.

i got to see her not too long ago at the calvin theater in northampton, ma and when she did kite song if felt that, along with the sox winning the series, i could now die in peace.

"The wedding date was June just like any other bride
She loved him like no one before
and it was good to be alive
But sometimes that can slip away as fast
As any fingers through your hands
So you let time forgive the past
and go and make some other plans

You are not alone
Laying in the light
Put out the fire in your head
And lay with me tonight
You are not alone
Laying in the light
Put out the fire in your head
And lay with me tonight"

At 11:26 PM, Blogger happytheman said...

Found you on a search to make sure I hadn't posted a song of Patty's. Never met you but I'm sure you miss Austin. KGSR is the best. Thanks for the post will be checking out other Dust Offs.


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