The Humanity of Patty Griffin's Musical World
Opening Patty Griffin’s newest album Mil Besos (“1000 Kisses”) was like opening a book that I wanted to read in one sitting. And I did. I cued the CD player, wrestled the booklet from its case, and opened to the lyrics of the first song, listening until the album was through.
Griffin writes words that make her listeners pay careful attention as she gives voice to stories of quiet pain and dignity. She inhabits the heartbroken, the misunderstood, the lost, the lonely, the unabashedly lovesick, the vulnerable, and the grieving; and renders them proud and unforgettable. She does so with striking melodies and beautiful instrumentation. She makes me cry. She makes me fantasize about accordion lessons.
Mil Besos (“1000 Kisses”), released in April, is Griffin’s third album. Originally from Maine, Griffin is well respected in the community of singer-songwriters. Emmylou Harris said, “I would go anywhere, anytime to hear Patty Griffin sing her extraordinary songs.” Says Dave Matthews , “I can’t think of a more beautiful singer and better songwriter alive today.” She might be most well known for her song, “Let Him Fly,” that was the inspiration for the Dixie Chicks’ second album, Fly.
Mil Besos offers songs that are more redemptive than they are sad. Griffin understands human vulnerability; she enrolls her listeners in some kind of community of ordinary survivors.
I think of Griffin’s songs as religious, not because Jesus shows up in them (though he does make some campy cameos: “Jesus stares at me, in my chair, with his big blue eyes and his honey blond hair, looking at me, from way up there on the wall”), but because each song is like a prayer, a meditation, or an offering from one person’s story. A line from the song “Making Pies”:
Did I show you this picture of my sweetheart taken of us before the war? Of the Greek and his Italian girl one Sunday at the shore. We tied our ribbons to the fire escape, they were taken by the birds, who flew home to the country as the bombs rained on the world.
This single image gives a glimpse into the loss of a lifetime, though the song is otherwise humble.
If each song on this album is a prayer, then her song, “Be Careful,” is a litany. “All the girls working overtime, Telling you everything is fine / Funny girls on the TV shows, close your eyes and they turn to snow.” The refrain is, “Be careful how you bend me, careful where you send me, careful how you end me, be careful with me.” This appeal for care inspires compassion, as all of Griffin’s songs; in that lies their power.