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Review: Patty Griffin’s elegant songs are deeply meditative

March 7, 2019
This image released by PGM Recordings shows the self-titled album for Patty Griffin. (PGM Recordings via AP)

Patty Griffin, “Patty Griffin” (PGM/Thirty Tigers)

It’s taken Patty Griffin more than 20 years and nearly a dozen albums to issue a self-titled release. There may be no particular reason for the designation, but considering its intensely meditative character, her recently-revealed successful battle with cancer and her dedication to besieged causes like refugees and the environment, it seems like a deliberate choice.

Recorded mostly in the Maine native’s Austin, Texas, home studio with longtime collaborator Craig Ross, “Patty Griffin” varies seamlessly between American folk, Celtic-rooted tunes, chansons and beyond with the excellence and elegance Griffin’s songwriting has deservedly become known for.

David Pulkingham’s Mediterranean-style guitar phrases underpin opener “Mama’s Worried,” one of several songs on the 13-track album that include seas, rivers and oceans as symbols of strength, vastness and even justice. “River” may be about a woman who is “ever changing and undefined,” or it could be an ode to an admired waterway with a will of its own.

“Coins” is one of two tracks featuring Griffin’s ex-beau Robert Plant, whose harmonies are endearingly subtle and supportive, with his contribution to “What Now” — a yearningly-sketched song of uncertainty with droning tones and Griffin’s mandolin-like guitar and riveting vocals — especially translucent.

“Bluebeard,” based on the French tale of the monstrous husband and the curious wife, and “Boys from Tralee,” detailing the dire fates of Irish immigrants, have similar folk approaches, while “Hourglass” slips its yearnings for freedom into a New Orleans trombone pocket.

Road song “Luminous Places” covers a wide terrain before an intimate conclusion, and closer “Just the Same” ponders a relationship’s ebb and flow and the consequences of patience and perseverance.

Griffin has never sounded any less than fully engaged on any of her albums and now that her name is on the building, so to speak, her commitment is as profound as ever.