Friday, May 24, 2013


A great favourite of roots performers, Griffin's songs are go-to material for the likes of Emmylou Harris, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Dixie Chicks and even Solomon Burke.  Blessed with the classic Americana voice, she could be Southern, she could be Texan, but in fact comes from Old Town, Maine.  No matter, she has the grand ability to write a timeless tune that evokes the past and tugs at the heart.

This latest is a largely acoustic affair, porch music played tenderly, pushing the ear towards her confident croon.  She comes close to Harris at times, but when she leans into the notes has a blues tone that comes out, to great effect, a very pleasing vocalist.  Backing her guitar and mandolin players that include Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars, and his brother Cody on percussion, although several songs dispense with such noisy intrusions.  It's a brave writer and artist to focus on so many soft numbers, but that's a strong suit with such a confident singer.  Also joining in is the huge presence of one Robert Plant, with whom she works as a singer in Band Of Joy, and is dating/married to/something.  Plant sings so softly here, you can't recognize the famous pipes, but they have a pleasing sound that way.

While Griffin does rev it up a bit in a couple of numbers, the core of the album is found in its calmness, matching the spiritual search in much of the material.  It's a human search for a quiet soul.  Opener Go Wherever You Wanna Go is a song about relief of burdens, those of a soldier who know longer has to fight, a worker no longer sweating or worrying about bills, the singer offering a child-like freedom of a sunny day with no rules.  Ohio, a full duet with Plant, features a touch of the African drone sounds with which he's familiar, and offers up the titular river as a mystical meeting point, where love and blood flow outside of time.  God does show up a couple of times, once as a wild old dog, another time as an old, beaten man cries in fear that he's been forgotten in his faithful, hard-working life.  This is old-time religion in new parables.

Don't be scared though, the beauty wins above all, especially on the lovely duet, again with Plant, Highway Song.  While still an acoustic song, it has a nifty atmospheric bed and some dreamy effects on the organ that add a modern touch.  I'd never once point to this as an old-time listen, but it sure keeps those good values.

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