Album Reviews

Patty Griffin

Servant Of Love

Artist:     Patty Griffin

Album:     Servant Of Love

Label:     Thirty Tigers

Release Date:     09/25/2015


With Servant Of Love, Patty delivers a highly introspective album that began to take shape as she marked her 50th birthday. While introspection is certainly one of her hallmarks, there is a marked change in the music. Though it’s not as stripped down as her debut, Living With Ghosts, which was practically a demo album, both the sparseness and the choice of instruments give this album a free, uncluttered backing that showcases her passionate, searing vocals and the clarity of perhaps her most poetic lyrics to date. The genre bending, often melancholy musical palette creates a mysterious feel to this album, yet it has its bluesy, bouncy moments too. It falls just a tad short of her career best, the 2013 masterpiece, American Kid, but there are still plenty of rewards here. As Lucinda Williams prophetically said over fifteen years ago, “There are plenty of girls with guitars out there, but Patty Griffin is the one to watch.”

This, her tenth album, continues her fine teamwork with producer Craig Ross, who produced Amercan Kid, Silver Bell and Impossible DreamShe has gone independent with her own imprint too. Press materials reference her inspiration, from nature poets Walt Whitman and Ralph Emerson, as well as the activist writer, James Baldwin. But Griffin is undoubtedly also reeling from the breakup of her relationship with Robert Plant, and she searches for hope in a world she often finds disillusioning. “I think we can do better than we’re doing.  And I feel optimistic that, at least, I can try.  I can try in the little space around my body, and see what happens.”

Griffin’s own mournful piano, later joined by a muted trumpet, open the slow, rather eerie title track as her voice changes dynamics before oozing away like a wave of that same ocean she’s singing about with “words from the deep calling to me.” It’s a gutsy beginning and you know from the outset that this is a challenging listen. Heartbreak takes over on the guitar-driven “Hurt a Little While” and on the piano (this time played by John Deaderick) ballad “You Never Asked Me.” We do find some up-tempo electric guitar in “Gunpowder” and the album single “There Isn’t One Way.” “Noble Ground” has a jazz noir feel, and there’s a touch of North African coloring (perhaps Plant’s influence) in “Good and Gone” and “Everything’s Changed.”

Griffin can sound anguished and defiant whether in a bluesy, jazzy, or folksy mode, but listen carefully, because strength and resiliency always seems to overcome the despair. Again, she is clearly on top of her game in both songwriting and vocal phrasing. Griffin’s fall tour has already begun, and you can catch her at Town Hall in NYC on 10/1 or the Keswick in Philly on 10/7. Prepare to be spellbound.

– Jim Hynes

Got something to say?