Monday, June 8, 2009

Nanci Griffith -- The Loving Kind

Nanci Griffith
The Loving Kind

Back in the early-1980s, when I was running the Golem, I used to book a number of artists – most notably Odetta – through Len Rosenfeld, an agent in New York City. Len asked me to take a chance on an unknown singer-songwriter from Texas that he really liked and sent me copies of Nanci Griffith’s first two LPs, There’s a Light Beyond These Woods and Poet in My Window,released on tiny a Texas label called Featherbed (later reissued by Philo/Rounder). I really liked them too and started booking Nanci at the Golem. She played there regularly through the rest of my tenure at the Golem (the end of 2007). During that period Nanci recorded two of the very best albums of her career, Once in a Very Blue Moon and The Last of the True Believers. Her song, “Banks of the Pontchartrain,” from The Last of the True Believers was based on Nanci’s trips to Montreal to play at the Golem.

This new album, I think, is Nanci’s best set of mostly original material since The Last of the True Believers and her best album, period, since the two Other Voices albums in the 1990s. She’s again writing songs with something to say, she’s singing like she means it and she’s surrounded herself with a tight, small band of ace musicians including Matt McKenzie on bass, Barry Walsh on keyboards, Shad Cobb on fiddle and co-producers Pat McInerney on drums and Thom Jutz on guitar.

My favourite songs on the album are the title song, a tribute to an interracial couple – whose name really was ‘Loving’ – who defied state law to marry in Virginia in 1958. Theirs was the precedent setting case at the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down American laws barring interracial marriage; “One of These Days,” a sweet remake of a tune from The Last of the True Believers; “Across America,” a celebration of the hope that came alive as the old Bush era gave way to the new Obama era; and “Up Against the Rain,” a song for the late, great Townes Van Zandt. I once spent a very intense evening chatting with Townes and I think Nanci’s really captured something of the torment that was at the heart of his soul.

If I’m remembering right, Jerry Jeff Walker, in the liner notes to Guy Clark’s first album – Old No. 1, a great album, BTW – talked about the “natural music of the acoustic guitar.” The Loving Kind, I think, is a return to the natural music of Nanci Griffith.

--Mike Regenstreif

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