You have to face yourself and face what you’re made of, or turn away from it. And people turn away from it in a lot of different ways, usually looking for safety. But the road is not easy or casual. Life requires things from you—if you’re really living it and are really alive—that are really difficult and painful, and you can’t avoid those things if you’re really participating.
Some call it Americana. Some call it alt-country or folk. However you categorize Patty Griffin’s music, she’s one of the best singer-songwriters alive. If you don’t believe me, just look at all the better-known artists who have recorded her songs. Or look at this quote (above) from her recent interview with Paste. The woman knows how to make beauty out of pain.
Servant of Love, her latest release, defies categorization more than her recent albums. Patty says that she was inspired by listening to her lost third album, which was remixed and released in 2014. I bought Silver Bell last year, but I never connected with it like I have most of her albums. However, the vibe on Servant of Love also reminds me of her second album, which I adore. Somewhat of a mishmash in its influences, with admittedly a few awkward tracks, but still engaging and delightful.
Depending on the song, Patty Griffin tends to take on the role of the sage or the storyteller. Her last album strongly favored the storytelling side as it explored her father’s life and death, but Servant of Love shows more of the sage. My favorite example is “There Isn’t One Way,” a song that reminds us not to live our lives by someone else’s standards and not to impose our standards on others. As she says, “there’s just you and your heart and the part you’ve gotta play.” It’s wise and catchy! “Shine a Different Way” is another song in the sage vein, and its quiet hopefulness make for a nice album closer.
There are some exquisite ballads on this album, and I would expect nothing less from Patty. “You Never Asked Me” is probably one of the saddest songs she’s ever written, which is really saying something. She’s telling her ex-lover that she doesn’t believe in romantic love as a magical cure to life’s woes, and she would have told him that if he’d asked. But he never asked! I need a minute—that’s some poignant stuff. “250,000 Miles” is a more meandering ballad about womanhood and motherhood. The eerie instrumentals undercut the beautiful vocals, making the song a dynamic experience.
It’s a rare album that I want to listen to from start to finish. There are always a few that fail to excite, at least enough to make me skip ahead to the better tracks. The only songs on Servant of Love that lose my attention are the jazz-influenced tunes, which just aren’t to my taste. Otherwise it’s an excellent example of Patty Griffin the sage. I’m sure that I will grow to appreciate the album even more in the coming months as subtle moments are brought to my attention through repeated listening. How often can you honestly say that about an album?