Review Summary: By far her most compelling outing to date, Children Running Through shows why Patty Griffin is so revered by her peers
For an artist who is so widely revered by her peers, it has always perplexed me that Patty Griffin fails to rate a mention in many circles. In late 2007, she made a small tour to Australia playing in quite small intimate venues. Most of the people who attended those shows were unsure who she was, but the quality of the shows were such that by the time she returned a few months later, moderate to large venues around the country were easily sold out.
If it’s not the music, I can only put her relative obscurity down to the fact that alongside redheaded beauties like Jenny Lewis, Neko Case and Hayley Williams or Tori Amos, it becomes pretty hard to get noticed. Patty Griffin could be like that quiet, polite, conscientious girl, who sat at the front in English class. She was neither attractive nor unattractive, but there’s something you like about her anyway. Certainly she is a very polite person on stage.
Her records to date have all been strong outings, marked with some very fine song writing and a diverse musical palette. There was a stripped back acoustic singer/songwriter in her debut ‘Living With Ghosts’, a country-rock outing in ‘Flaming Red’ and along with more refined, emotional, atmospheric offerings in ‘Impossible Dream’. All the elements that made those records great have crystallised on ‘Children Running Through’, resulting in a career defining album so effortlessly elegant and assured that you feel it must cement her as a legitimately great artist.
The late night jazzy opener ‘You’ll Remember’ puts Griffin’s voice front and centre, hovering above the double bass she delivers a powerful vocal performance with control and worthy of a seasoned jazz vocalist. The production here – as it is throughout the album – is spot on. This is followed by the catchy, feet tapping ‘Stay on the Ride’, a song about the resilience, living and letting life where it take you where it will.
The middle of the album contains two remarkable songs about childhood memories. Trapeze’, a duet with Emmylou Harris, depicts the childhood story of seeing a circus girl walking on a trapeze, and the reckless abandon inherit in such a profession. The vocal harmonies that underscore the song’s finale is breathtaking, as both singers reach to the higher ranges. The piano driven ‘Burgundy Shoes’ is highlighted by the use of a string ensemble and simple but poignant lyrics recollecting a childhood moment:
The bus driver’s a dime and a nickel
We climb on our seats the vinyl is cold
"Michelle ma belle", the song that you loved then
You hold my hand and sing to your self
The delivery is so good it is not hard to feel the warm rays as if you were sitting by the window seat on that bus. Elsewhere, she takes to gospel on ‘Up to the Mountain’ in a tribute to Martin Luther King, and similarly leanings on ‘Heavenly Day’ . The thrashing ‘No Bad News’ reads much like an angry political letter, before she closes the album with an ode to love in ‘Crying Over’.
There is a lot more here. This is a stylistically complex album that shifts across many genres that would have been easy to lose control of but for Griffin’s vocal abilities. At this point in her career, it’s the most mature, complex and rewarding album she and her fans could have expected. Now you know what you like about her, so you’ll keep attending those boring English classes.