After detours including a Grammy-winning gospel LP and a key role in boyfriend Robert Plant's Band of Joy project, Griffin is back to her day job: singing her own artful country-folk songs. Except here, with a voice evidently stretched by her side projects, she expands the notion of country. Her unusual harmonies with Plant on "Highway Song" and the hypnotic "Ohio" match anything from his celebrated Raising Sand LP.
One of the themes of O’Brien’s Vietnam “memoir”/short story collection The Things They Carried is that the book’s events might not have actually happened, or happened exactly as they’re written, but that this didn’t violate the “truth” of the stories. A far cry from the self-deluding “truthiness” popularized by satirist Stephen Colbert, O’Brien’s aim is to shine a light on the true essence of an experience, a life, or a death. To some extent, this is what Patty Griffin accomplishes on American Kid.
Six years ago, folk singer-songwriter Patty Griffin released her best album to date, Children Running Through. Her new one, American Kid, might top that stunning achievement. Combining Americana with folk rock songs that actually emphasize the “rock” part of the term, American Kid, a tribute to Griffin’s late father, recalls another recent instant Americana classic, also partially written about the singer-songwriter’s father: Anaïs Mitchell’s brilliant Young Man In America.
American Kid is Patty Griffin's first album of primarily original material since 2007's Children Running Through. It's her most stripped-down recording since her debut, Living with Ghosts. Acoustic guitars of all stripes, mandolins, earthy drums, percussion, bass, and occasional piano and organ accompany her instantly recognizable voice. Co-produced by the artist and Craig Ross, she is joined by longtime guitarist Doug Lancio, as well as Cody and Luther Dickinson.
With a bit of juke-joint loose blues strumming rising from a National guitar, Patty Griffin leans into “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida” with a tortured cry on what becomes a steamy track with a deep, surging pocket. A swampy exhortation, it is Appalachia gone gator with the songwriter’s fevered enjoinder given further urgency as her soprano swings from wide-open wail to silken surrender. Death and displacement are certainly themes on American Kid.
Centred around her father's passing, this seventh from the American country singer is a suitably ruminative affair, mixing her sadness with cameos from his life. Its gentle acoustic arrangements, full of intricate guitars and mandolin, come with only the odd up-tempo piece, such as the ringing Don't Let Me Die in Florida. Griffin reaches deep for the songs, taking her father's part as a young man on Not a Bad Man and the piano ballad Irish Boy, while the lovely Ohio, to which her sidekick, Robert Plant, adds harmonies, reflects on waters that are "softer and deeper than time".
There certainly is more attention being paid to Patty Griffin now that she may (or may not) be married to Robert Plant, after serving in his Band of Joy, but that hasn't changed the essence of her sound on her seventh album. Plant does make a guest appearance on a couple of tracks ("Ohio" and "Highway Song"), although each of their meditative qualities hardly suggests American Kid was designed as a sequel to Raising Sand, Plant's acclaimed collaboration with Alison Krauss. Griffin is far grittier than Krauss and most of American Kid is a tribute to her recently deceased father, a World War II veteran who raised seven kids.
Patty GriffinAmerican Kid(New West)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars There’s nothing like being Robert Plant’s vocal partner in the sadly short lived Band of Joy to bolster your visibility. After finishing an album and tour with Mr. Lemon Squeezer, singer/songwriter Griffin retreats to a far more intimate setting for tunes thematically built around her father.
When loss fuels an album, it can play like an open wound. Tender, reflective, and poignant, Patty Griffin's seventh LP, American Kid, honors her late father Lawrence Griffin, a World War II veteran and high school teacher. The ultimate labor of love, its folk blues offers a deeply moving eulogy. While autobiographical work can certainly open itself up to vulnerability, that doesn't necessarily correspond to artistic achievement.