Album Review: Patty Griffin — American Kid
Inspired in part by her late father, who was a teacher, World War II veteran, and the son of Irish immigrants, Patty Griffin’s American Kid–her first album of original music in six years as well as her debut on New West Records—is one of the most gorgeous collections of music we’re likely to hear all year. Simultaneously an album of mourning and a celebration of life, American Kid portrays the ache of loss with heartrending clarity while finding moments of comfort in old memories (“Irish Boy”) and spirituality (album opener “Go Wherever You Wanna Go”).
Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) give “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida” a gritty, bluesy edge with their “can-jo” (a homemade banjo made out of a coffee can) and percussion, respectively, while Robert Plant contributes haunting harmonies to “Ohio.” The album’s only cover, Lefty Frizzell’s tender “Mom and Dad’s Waltz,” is a highlight, with only guitar and mandolin accompanying Griffin’s poignant vocal. “Waltz” also a fine companion to Frizzell’s “I Want to Be with You Always,” which Griffin sang with Buddy Miller on his 2011 project, The Majestic Silver Strings.
“Get Ready, Marie,” with its barroom piano and drunken chorus telling the tale of a tipsy groom shambling down the aisle on his wedding day, is a charming and much-needed moment of levity, as it leads into “Not a Bad Man,” a song delivered from the point of view of a soldier who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder: “I bet you see a stranger when you look at me/When I look in the mirror, I know that’s what I see.”
Griffin is one of the most talented songwriters in contemporary folk music, leading artists like Emmylou Harris and The Dixie Chicks to cover her work over the years. American Kid features multiple songs that stand among her best work yet, especially closing track “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone.” “Now the secrets you keep will be the things I’ll never know,” she sings over Craig Ross’ Omnichord. It’s a sentiment familiar to any person who’s ever mourned a loved one and grieved the loss not only of what was, but what could have been. Superbly written and beautifully sung, “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone”–and the entirety of American Kid — is so personal, so revealing, that it is occasionally painful to hear. But as easily as Griffin’s music wounds, it also heals.
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