Servant of Love
Thirty Tigers PGM 001
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Patty Griffin is beloved among music fans and rightly so. The only open question about Griffin is why she's only a medium-sized deal instead of the biggest thing to hit country music since Dolly Parton's hair. Servant of Love—widely interpreted as her post Robert Plant break-up album–helps explain why. Like Emmylou Harris, to whom Griffin is often compared, she doesn't play according to the rules. That is, she's almost impossible to categorize. Is she a delicate folk princess, a Texas (via Maine) country girl, a roll-up-the-sleeves rocker, a PTL gospel roller, an introspective chanteuse, or a pop diva? She's all of them, though the Celine Dion-like outlandish glam headdress she dons for an inside-CD airbrushed photograph is no doubt intended as ironic mockery of pop pretense.
Griffin is about the size of a New York minute but my goodness, what a voice pours out! The title track is as smoky and enigmatic as a Jacques Brel composition—just nighttime piano and Griffin's emotive voice. In the next breath, though, she slides into the rockabilly "Gunpowder," which is what what a cowboy hepcat might have dreamed up in the mid-50s. Need more? "Hurt a Little While" and "There Isn't One Way" are Mavis Staples goes secular. "Snake Charmer" is a country song wrapped in Jim Morrison-like imagery, and songs such as "Rider of Days" and "You Never Asked Me" will simply knock you off your pins through sheer beauty and the power of the embedded emotions. This is especially true of the latter, which is one of the more poignant songs of lost love in recent memory. When Griffin finishes one stanza with the line As we glide along the bends of time/Falling for little tricks of mind/With memories of Eden now so far behind/And the taste of melting snow, then slides into the opening line of the next verse–I don't believe in love like that anyway–you can just rip out your heart and toss it on the bedroom floor. Luckily Griffin takes us out on a high note, the bluegrass-flavored "Shine a Different Way." You'll cry because it's so damn pretty, but it's move-on optimism will bring a simultaneous smile. And here's hoping Ms. Griffin never compromises her art for anyone. Rob Weir
PS: Craig Ross (of Lenny Kravitz band fame), who also guests on the release, produced the album. He deserves kudos for captaining a truly remarkable recording.