Not being an avid listener of folk music, I was unfamiliar with Patty Griffin’s work before listening to this album. My only forays into the genre in the past have usually come about by accident, having been caught by surprise by one of those songs that, every now and again, come on the TV or radio and, through their sheer beauty, stop you in your tracks and make you immediately search for the source and listen to more. ‘Miss Ohio’, heard on a now long forgotten radio show, led me to Gillian Welch, while ‘Something On Your Mind’, playing over the closing credits of some equally unmemorable TV programme, brought me to Karen Dalton.
‘Where I Come From’, the third track on Patty Griffin’s eponymously titled album, is without a doubt one of those songs. One which I could (and did) listen to on repeat without getting tired of it. A poignant tribute to forgotten rural towns, it charts the beautiful if sometimes harsh effect of the changing seasons on country life, from the ‘winter’s long’ that gets ‘into your boots’, to the ‘tourists’ who ‘come through…when the sun shines’. Paired with Patty’s earnest voice and a particularly haunting guitar, it is impossible not to get a sense of the deep attachment the song’s protagonist feels to their hometown, nor their disgust at how the high levels of unemployment faced by its inhabitants is ‘Like a bad joke somebody told on our town for their enjoyment’.
Aside from ‘Where I Come From’, there are plenty of other captivating tracks on this album. ‘The Wheel’ offers a scathing commentary on how society has forever been divided between ‘Who is weak and who is strong’. It’s playful, repetitive sound proves to make the specific reference to a man ‘Choked to death by a policeman/For selling single cigarettes’ halfway through even more chilling, being viewed as only one incident in an unbreakable chain of injustices. It’s almost impossible not to be melted by the sultry sounds of ‘Hourglass’ and to be heartened by its defiant message of support for the dreamers of the world who don’t want to ‘Keep it in the lines’, and it’s equally hard not to be drawn in by the fascinating tale of a young woman overcoming a cruel fate during Patty’s retelling of the traditional folktale, ‘Bluebeard’.
The only tracks I struggled with were those with slightly more sentimental lyrics such as ‘The River’ and ‘Just the Same’. I found these a little too schmaltzy for my own tastes. However, because of the huge variety on the album it was never too long before something more appealing would be playing again. Covering everything from slow ballads to angry protest songs, this album is not only testament to the enduring power of the folk genre to capture a whole range of human emotions and experiences but also to Patty’s own talent and versatility.
So go on, get some folk in your ears (you just might like it).
Words by Kirsten Loach.