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Cirque Du Soleil
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Cirque Du Soleil
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Time Line
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Anoushka Shankar

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Julius Curcio
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"Come Alive"
Changing Into Me
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Cover Story [Issue # 25 ]
Patty Griffin: All Good News

By Dean Truitt

Children Running Through ( CD ATO )

Patty Griffin is a stalwart survivor, which has served her well in weathering the torrential storms of the music business. She didn’t begin her professional music career in earnest until signing with A&M Records a few years after turning 30.

Almost immediately, the label took its talented prospect and spun her career aimlessly like a ship without a rudder. Which is not to say that the redheaded songstress never produced some great material because she in fact turned out incredible albums for the record company. Her first two offerings, Living with Ghosts and Flaming Red, feature some of the decade’s finest songwriting. Regrettably, A&M refused to recognize the brilliant diamond they had discovered and failed to release half the albums she recorded for the conglomerate. Much to her relief, the brass did release Griffin from her contract and unwittingly launched a blissful union between the artist and ATO Records, owned by a Griffin devotee, Dave Matthews.

Matthews is one of countless Patty Griffin fans, who run far and wide within the entertainment industry. The Dixie Chicks - the belles of 2007’s Grammy Awards ceremony – have recorded three of her songs (“Let Him Fly,” “Top of the World,” and “Truth No. 2). Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Solomon Burke, Bette Midler, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Jessica Simpson have also interpreted material from Griffin’s astounding catalog. Academy Award-winning director Cameron Crowe personally asked the singer to appear in his 2005 film, Elizabethtown.

The artist cannot believe that so many significant artists have recorded and performed her material, but the simple truth is that no one can sing a Patty Griffin song better than Patty Griffin. After a three-year hiatus, the singer-songwriter returns with an effort that rivals her strongest work to date. Drawing the album’s title from a poem of the same name by 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, Children Running Through finds Griffin coming full circle in many ways. She says, “I realize the things I really liked when I was ten years old are the things I really like now – the things that are important (laughs). And all the stuff in between, a lot of it’s not very important anymore. So, I guess if there is a theme [to Children Running Through], that’s it.”

Such simple concepts may seem trite when spoken, but the same ideas will take on unrestrained power once Patty Griffin begins singing about them. The artist finds inspiration can be overpowering once the muse strikes her. She reveals, “They [songs] tend to erupt and be in one piece. That’s the way I like them best, I think. It’s almost like phonetics. You make them up just scatting them and then you realize you’re saying this. It’s kind of weird sometimes the things that show up. Sometimes the things I resist and fight with the most turn out to be my favorite songs or the ones that live the longest.”

One of Griffin’s Children that will surely live a long life is the triumphant “I Don’t Ever Give Up.” In many ways, the track also serves as a slogan for Griffin’s life. As the track whispers into existence, her velvety alto sings, “I’m no kid in a kid’s game.” Griffin admits, “I turned 40 a couple of years ago and I noticed at a certain point I had begun to doubt myself so easily that it was just the standard M.O. with me. When I would sit down to write, I had to really talk myself into doing it [saying], ‘You can do this (laughs)! Who cares if you’re good enough?’”

While her songwriting catalog has unexpectedly garnered much praise and income from successful covers of her material, Griffin recognizes the challenge of aging in a youth-dominated industry. She muses, “Getting older as a woman, especially as a performer, the doors start to close. Unless you’re willing to plow people down for help, there’s a sense that it’s ridiculous to ask for any attention at all. It’s a really strange experience. I just sort of decided, ‘What the hell? I’m going to keep on going anyway (laughs).’ You feel like you’re up against an ocean when you’re still doing this, but there are a lot of older women still hanging in there. I think that’s a fairly new thing, too. It’s rare, but it’s getting less and less rare.”

Although Griffin’s material often paints wrenching heartbreak that rivals the despair William Faulkner conjured in his novels, she welcomes the chance to sing of joyful experiences. One of the many stellar moments on Children Running Through is the song, “Burgundy Shoes.” She recalls, “It began with a conversation I had with Craig Ross, who is really good friend of mine - not Craig Ross who plays with Lenny Kravitz - there’s another guy here in Austin who’s a great songwriter and producer. He produced Impossible Dream for me and has been a friend of mine for years. We were talking about old songs and how it used to be that nobody ever wrote sad songs and that now that’s sort of all anybody ever writes. They’re credible if they’re sad and if they’re not, nobody gives them the time of day. So we put a challenge to each other because there are other things to think about besides sad thoughts (laughs). Although those make great songs, there are other colors to paint with and, frankly, I wanted something like that to sing.”

One might expect the end product of such a casual challenge among friends to be a respectable ditty that extols some mundane pleasure in life; however, Patty Griffin doesn’t seem to possess the ability to create anything lukewarm. The resulting song, “Burgundy Shoes,” is a loving anecdote involving a young girl’s mother. As the piano trickles out a melody of childlike simplicity, Griffin unfolds a tale that feels both otherworldly and familiar. Her sensory details transport the listener across the ether and into the past. She describes, “‘Burgundy Shoes’ was really trying to find a moment in my memory that I could really feel joy in and I went back to one of my earliest memories of waiting for the bus in the town that I grew up in. It was a big, exciting trip to the big city that was Bangor, Maine (laughs) with my mom on a really beautiful spring day. When you grow up in the Northeast, you have to wear big boots for the whole winter and then suddenly your mom says it’s OK to take your boots off and you feel like you’re walking on air ‘cause your feet are in these shoes. And they’re pretty shoes, not ugly boots. It was just that simple moment - having that time with my mom and thinking about I used to think she was the most beautiful woman in the world. When you start digging back into being really little, you find all these memories that are very pure and aren’t crowded by anxiety or anything like that. I was trying to write that song from the point of view of who I was then.”

Griffin has a rare gift for creating sonic scrapbooks that all can enjoy, but she can’t ignore the growing concerns of living in today’s world. The singer found herself struggling to find glimmers of hope in a weary world. She explains, “I’ve been paying attention a lot more lately to Martin Luther King, especially after the [Iraq] war broke out. I think seeing the political machine on such a low level, I really was looking for inspiration from anywhere of people being courageous. I think things are in a corrupted state and it really is a make it or break it time for our country - and therefore the world. Martin Luther King: what a hill he had to climb. I was just watching some documentary and you see him make that speech. [Former mayor of Atlanta] Andrew Young gives the narration and he said MLK got to Memphis and he knew he was a dead man and, on top of that, he was physically very ill. They propped him up on the podium and while he’s making that speech, he kind of walks right through his fear and you can see him do that. It’s just a remarkable moment to be able to witness and I feel like I got a little bit of what courage looks like and I’m always looking for more courage.”

Despite seeking inspiration in others, Patty Griffin has served as a beacon of hope for her audience, which appears to be growing throughout the world. With a stunning performance of “Heavenly Day” on The Late Show with David Letterman and a debut at #34 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart, one would expect all good news in Griffin’s forecast.

Children Running Through

All Good News Patty Griffin Children Running Through

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