Without a doubt, Patty Griffin is my favorite vocalist. Her voice has the capacity to be both fragile and strong, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s also an amazing songwriter. She released a gospel album in 2010, but her last original album came out while I was still in high school. You can imagine my excitement when she announced a new album for 2o13, titled American Kid.
Many of the songs on American Kid were inspired by her father, who passed away in 2009. Although that sounds like a recipe for the melancholy album, the songs are really a celebration of his life. Manhood is a major theme of American Kid, which reminds me of one of my favorite albums in 2012: Anais Mitchell’s Young Man in America. It may seem odd to explore masculinity through a female voice, but the theme actually gains poignancy in the hands of these two wonderfully subtle songwriters.
When I heard the new album was called American Kid, I was strangely uninspired. Well, it turns out to be a perfect title for this body of work. The title comes from “Not A Bad Man,” a song about a modern-day soldier returning from war, but it could just as easily refer to Griffin’s father. “Ohio” tells another quintessentially American story about slaves escaping across the Ohio River. Griffin is a master of representing different characters in her songs, whether it be a veteran or a slave or a woman missing her lover, and she unifies their voices through her own.
Griffin told Rolling Stone that American Kid is “grittier than anything I’ve done in a really long time.” I love all of her albums, but my favorite is still her first. Living with Ghosts is pure grit and beauty, in part because it’s based heavily on her original demo tapes. Her later albums evolved into a more ethereal production style. Both styles suit Griffin’s voice, but it’s nice to hear her stripped down again.
In traditional review fashion, I should point out some standout tracks on the album. I’m finding that particularly difficult today because this album has so many. It kicks off with “Go Wherever You Wanna Go,” a joyful tribute to her father. Next comes “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida,” a classic Patty screamer. “Irish Boy” is a perfect piano ballad. “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone” is Patty at her sultry best. Before the album release, my only exposure to most of these songs was a radio performance posted on YouTube. It made for a great introduction, so I’ll share one of the videos here.
Patty Griffin is coming to Minneapolis on June 13. The ticket price is a little steep for me, but I hope to see her live someday. Until then I have this lovely new album to enjoy.