Raleigh, NC SPECTATOR -March 6, 1997,
Patty Griffin Solo
By Philip Van Vleck
SINGER/SONGWRITER Patty Griffin is attracting a good bit of positive attention following the release of her solo album "Living With Ghosts" (A&M). A spare piece of work, Living With Ghosts is nothing but Griffin, an acoustic guitar and 10 very potent, very intimate songs. The minimalism of the album gives Griffin no place to hide, but that's also the beauty of it. Her strengths are the immediacy of her performance and the emotional depth of her lyrics; the fewer production elements imposed between her and the listener the better.
Griffin will be in concert Tuesday, March 11, at The Ritz in Raleigh, sharing the bill with Freedy Johnston and Shawn Colvin. I spoke with her last week as the Colvin tour was roaming New England preparing to head south.
The tour, which started in Providence, Rhode Island, was only in it's third day when we did the interview, but Griffin was already pleased to be where she was. The tour will take her from coast to coast in the span of six weeks, providing the sort of exposure that any new artist covets. "All the shows so far have been sold out," Griffin noted. "And this has been really pleasant so far, because Shawn and her people are great."
On her album it's clear that Griffin is working her way through a host of influences on her way to the vibe that's uniquely her. "When I was young," Griffin recalled, "l was very interested in Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Nicks"who I think is one of the greatest rock singers out there. In my late teens there was a lot of cool stuff going on. I was into Elvis Costello and America, for instance."
Griffin continued, talking about when she was learning to play guitar, sing, write songs"assemble herself as a musician, essentially. "It's a lot like what an athlete goes through," she observed. "A lot of repetition, a lot of repetition, and then at some point, hopefully, it all starts to work for you. With Living With Ghosts I felt like the writing and the singing both began to work for me, finally, as a way to express myself. Before that I'd either have the singing or have the writing, but I hadn't managed to put it all together. Of course, Ghosts is a particular style of songwriting, It isn't all I do. I mean, sometimes I'll just write off a groove, you know, and have fun singing. The album, however, is a collection of tunes from a time in my life when I definitely needed to express what was going on inside."
Being a first album, Living With Ghosts features a good deal of pretty old material mixed with recently written songs. Griffin allowed that some of the tunes go back four years. Is it difficult to get up for performing material that she's been dealing with for several years? "It's hard to find a place for the old stuff"that's the challenge," she responded. "I keep remembering that people are hearing these songs for the first time when they buy the album and I draw from that knowledge when performing. Life never ceases to be extremely interesting, filled with ups and downs, and I may not be as close now to the experiences that made me write those songs, but there are other things to draw from, that's the art of performance."
When asked if she was working on her second album, Griffin laughed and replied, "I am personally. The material's there, I'm ready to go in and do it again. That's the strange thing about having a record deal"it lakes so long to build material. It used to be that I'd have a gig coming up and I'd think, 'well, I'd sure love to have a couple of new songs to sing,' so I'd write 'em and then go play 'em al the gig. That has ceased to be something I can do, because of working the new record. I'm very anxious to do another album, but it all depends on what happens with the current album."
Living With Ghosts is, incidentally, exceeding the initial expectations at A&M in learns of sales. This has provoked the PR folks at A&M to get their acts together, gel behind Griffin and crank up the promo machine on her behalf. In fact, A&M's decision to release Griffin's album in this pristine slate of minimalism was fairly nervy for a major label. In the listening it's evident that many of her songs would work just fine with a band, but Griffin hasn't been satisfied with any recordings she's cut with a band thus far. "I didn't feel like I wanted to do that again,'' she said, "so l asked them [A&M] if they would release my songs as they originally heard them, namely, my guitar and my voice. Realizing that they were attached to those solo performances made me appreciate the strength of them and gave me guts to ask if they'd put them out that way. And they did. I have to give A&M credit."
Griffin does foresee working with a band again at some point. "I've actually done some work this past month recording songs with a hand. Believe it or not, I always intended to do a band thing, but I was way too chicken to audition for one, so I ended up doing the solo thing"and I love it. When I wrote many of the songs on Ghosts I fully intended to put them together with a band. Maybe that will happen down the road. I'm nearly looking forward to working with other musicians. I had a terrific experience doing some soundtrack recordings in Nashville. I was lucky enough to work with some extremely talented people and it opened my eyes to a world of possibilities."
Griffin's recording experience to this point has been something of an anti-studio experience. Several tracks on Ghosts, for instance, were n corded in a kitchen in recording engineer Steve Barry's Nashville home. "Originally," she began, "the idea was that I needed gigs and I needed to keep track of the songs I was writing, so l went into very inexpensive recording situations with someone I knew. I didn't know I was making an album. When we decided to put them out, I had some more songs to finish up, so l went back info the same son of low-end recording deal, like Steve Barry's kitchen. I love singing in his kitchen."
You can hear Patty Griffin in her kitchen
groove on Living With Ghosts and very soon you'll have a chance to experience
the whole Griffin package live at The Ritz in Raleigh, with Freedy Johnston
and Shawn Colvin. Again, that'll be Tuesday evening, March 11. Spectator
will be there. Snag your ticket while you can.
BOSTON PHOENIX -MARCH 7, 1997
Song spinning -Colvin makes good with the bad times
BY JOAN ALDERMAN
I've been thinking about the singer/songwriter, who is back-in good grace with the fickle gods of mainstream popular music culture (Jewel, Sarah McLachlan). Who gets to be in that club?
Why is Trent Reznor - who writes songs and sings them-not a singer/songwriter, but Shawn Colvin -who holds down the same job-is? It's not a matter of amps or attitude; contemplative souls are loud and pissed-off too. The difference is that musicians like Colvin and Freedy Johnston and Patty Griffin-who played a sold-out show at the Orpheum last Friday -devote their creative energies to building three-minute miniatures of a human condition that's painstakingly reflected in the messed-up poetry of their own lives, without the smoke machine theatricality and image mongering.
Count Patty Griffin among the loud and pissed-off. Scratching at her acoustic guitar as if it were the guy in the songs, she was a one-woman thrash-folk juggernaut, her strings and her heart breaking with about the same frequency. Griffins voice flies clear and hard from some fiery pit inside of her, and she wrapped it with mesmerizing grace around the tortured grunge of "Every Little Bit" and a throw-in-the towel blues "Let Him Fly." Both songs are from her debut CD, Living with Ghosts (A&M), which she recorded in a rented room in South Boston and a kitchen in Nashville. Two new songs, an edgy folk-rocker and a bitter waltz, rounded out a compelling, too-short set.
Freedy Johnston needed a hit of whatever Griffin is on. The scrappy energy of his latest alterna-folk-pop CD, Never Home (Elektra), was nonexistent, subsumed in equal measure by his lackluster band and the inexplicably awful sound. Hooks that would make the Gin Blossoms weep-on the Yes-meets-Paul Westerberg rocker "One More Thing To Break" "Something's Out There," a graduate thesis from the Elvis Costello school of smart-and-clever songwriting; and the ultra-catchy pop anthem "I'm Not Hypnotized" -were hopelessly muddied, and Johnston's already thin voice was lost almost entirely.
And then there was headliner Shawn Colvin, as elegant a confessor as her guru, Joni Mitchell. Although I continually battle the notion that suffering breeds artistic inspiration, Colvin's new A Few Small Repairs (Columbia)- arriving on the heels (or wings, as it were) of big emotional fractures -is the best thing she's done. Colvin's arc as a songwriter has led to a brilliant distillation of the sparkling folk-pop first heard in 1990 on her (well-deserved) Grammy-winning debut, Steady On (Columbia). Despair and disillusionment - fallout of the failed relationship-is stripped bare and set to a rootsy, beautifully elemental sound.
Colvin came out swinging with her two current singles "Sunny Came Home," a haunting parable about torching the past; literally and figuratively ("Get the kids and bring a sweater/Dry is good and wind is better/Count the years, you always knew it/Strike a match, go on and do it"), and "Get Out of This House," a folk- rock tune as forceful as it's message ("You act like baby, you talk like a fool Get out of this house"). Sometimes her melodies are so delicate they seem spun from air, especially on "Trouble," a stark embrace of her attraction to calamity, and "Ricochet in Time" and "Shotgun Down the Avalanche," two gems from the first album. Here Colvin turned phrases with such soft, uncomplicated inflection that it sounded as if she were speaking song.
Her good spirits ha evidently survived the emotional train wrecks. "I'd like to do another disaster song. They they keep getting bigger," she smirked, introducing "The Fall of Rome." And she showed true grit covering Prince's "Holy River," a lilting, gospel flavored homage to matrimony. The girl knows how to purge. She also knows how to play her guitar like crazy, a talent that tends to go over-looked. Her five-piece, band had chops to match -light-handed and crisp and quirky as her music.
"Armed with just a will then this love
for singing songs," Colvin sings in "If I Were Brave". Alone at the piano
for this wrenching ballad, she was the very picture of her song an artist
with less to prove and more to show in spite of, and of course because
of, all the trouble.
FAIRFAX JOURNAL, FAIRFAX, VA -March 14, 1997
Fabulous "Ghosts" lets
Griffin be Griffin
By John Scheinman
Patty Griffin comes us with nothing but her heart, her songs, her voice, and her guitar. How she got through the door intact, well that's a mystery. Big record companies always think they know best taking and shaping an artist, breaking them down to make the marketing just a little bit smoother because, after all, they've got to try to at least break even on the deal.
But here's this woman from Old Town, Maine, and her heart, her songs, etc., making the kind of record only Bob Dylan gets to make anymore. It's not a fashionable time for folkiestrummer types, but Griffin isn't a waif or a wisp with a gentle hippie song. And although she gets a lot of favorable comparisons to Alanis Morissette for her positive, strong, independent voice well, Morissette had a pretty powerful band backing her up.
On "Living With Ghosts" (A&M) it's just Griffin and her guitar. Her voice is big and strong, full of blues and heartache, pain and defiance. It's so arresting, Griffin doesn't need a band to fill in the spaces because the songs come out of her gut with a conviction that's more than enough. The music is far from spare.
"Living With Ghosts" is such a startling debut. The label left well enough alone and just let Griffin be herself. She can wistfully talk-sing with ache of Rickie Lee Jones, rock with the force of Bonnie Raitt, moan the blues, hiccup the country, turn a phrase about pain that makes you need to hear it twice:
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 of my travels to make these memories quit
but tonight I clearly recall every little bit
The funny thing about "Living With Ghosts" is that even though it's just Griffin with her acoustic guitar, it feels most like a rock album. The classic American sons, styles born from the blues, cave jazz,- come together in simplicity and directness and power.
When Griffin opened for Shawn Colvin
at the 9:30 Club last Friday night, the sellout crowd, most likely bursting
with pent-up energy from a hard work week, barely gave her the time of
day. The din from the gabbing threatened to swallow up someone who sings
with nothing but an acoustic guitar. But Griffin believes in her songs-that's
why they're so good on the album-and she just kept right on singing. And
the people sensitive enough to pay attention were rewarded.
Fort Worth STAR-TELEGRAM April 19, 1997
Warm-up acts upstage Shawn Colvin
By MALCOLM MAYHEW
DALLAS-Shawn Colvin made two mistakes Thursday night at the Bronco Bowl.Freedy Johnston and Patty Griffin.
Colvin's set before a surprisingly small but altogether appreciative crowd of about 1,500 was"in two words" just fine, but it was the sets by openers Johnston and Griffin that offered the evening's finest moments.
To her credit, Colvin was both alluring and entertaining, one part engaging songstress, one part storyteller. Yet the onetime Texan has made a name for herself as an intimate, intricate performer, someone who doesn't chat a lot or rely on backup musicians. Perhaps in the spacious realm of the Bronco Bowl"a venue much larger than she usually plays"she felt like she had to put on a Big Show, because she talked quite a bit and a four-piece band helped anchor her songs.
The presence of a full band helped a lot of the tunes"including a nice selection of material from her latest record, A Few Small Repairs"chug along at a brisk pace, but the group often got in the way of Colvin's intelligent, poetic lyrics and luscious voice. Thursday night's set had plenty of her traditional library-quiet moments, but in the end it sounded and felt like a very typical, generic pop-rock show; longtime Colvin fans know she's much better than this.
The preceding set by Freedy Johnston (whose real name, I bet, is Fred Johnson) was more entertaining, if not more daring; his casual use of four-letter words sent splashes of blushes across the faces of some audience members. His lyrics are often disturbing, dealing often with, misery and loss, rarely with hope or belief. Yet he turns his lyrical pains into' musical pleasures as he pillows his words' with digestible, catchy, early-R.E.M.-flavored melodies.
The best act of the night came first. Thirtysomething East Coaster Patty Griffin opened the show with a simple, stark set of acoustic numbers, mainly drawn from her incredible 1996 debut, Living With Ghosts. Griffin is truly a tortured soul, and her voice"going from a gentle whisper to a deadly wail"was both terrified and terrifying. The highlight of Griffin's 35-minute set came when Colvin joined her for the cryptic You Are Not Alone, in which the pair murmured the chorus over and over, like two sisters trying to convince each other that they are not, as the song goes, alone.