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Nanci Griffith

This self-styled “folkabilly” poet/singer began performing from an early age, initially with her parents in honky tonks and later on the Texas folk circuit, her pure, cutesy voice and girl-next-door appeal gaining her a sizeable global following.
After completing a degree in education at the University of Texas, GRIFFITH (born July 6, 1953, Seguin, Texas) focused wholly on music, making her recording debut a year later in 1978 with THERE’S A LIGHT BEYOND THESE WOODS {*5}. Released on the small independent label B.F. Deal, the album was largely self-penned, introducing her talent for vivid storytelling and snapshot vignettes. It was another four years before Nanci recorded a follow-up, POET IN MY WINDOW (1982) {*5}; the second release (the first being ex-husband ERIC TAYLOR’s `Shameless Love’ for which she sang harmonies) on another small label Featherbed. However, it wasn’t until GRIFFITH signed with folk/country label Philo, that her highly original singer-songwriter style began to develop significantly.
Backed by established musicians like Irish (electric) lead guitarist Phil Donnelly and acoustic maestros such as Lloyd Green, Roy Huskey Jr. and Bela Fleck, GRIFFITH cut her acclaimed ONCE IN A VERY BLUE MOON (1985) {*7}. Again the album consisted mainly of her own compositions, although there were a few fine covers including LYLE LOVETT’s `If I Was The Woman You Wanted’ and the exceptional Pat Alger-penned title track after which Nanci would subsequently name the backing band she formed the following year The Blue Moon Orchestra. 1986 also saw the release of the Grammy Award-winning (Best Folk Album) LAST OF THE TRUE BELIEVERS {*7}, KATHY MATTEA subsequently scoring a US country smash with one of the GRIFFITH-penned ballads `Love At The Five And Dime’. The album was the first to be released in the UK through the independently distributed Demon and the same year, Philo re-released GRIFFITH’s first two albums, her star firmly in the ascendant as she inked a new deal with M.C.A.
The singer made her major label debut with LONE STAR STATE OF MIND (1987) {*7}, the most successful release of her career thus far and an album featuring two of her most famous tracks, the bittersweet reminiscence of the Pat Alger/Gene Levine/Fred Koller-penned title track (a minor hit) and the crystal clear, definitive reading of Julie Gold’s `From A Distance’. Other highlights numbered the re-recorded `There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret)’ from the debut and Robert Earl Keen Jnr.’s `Sing One For Sister’.
LITTLE LOVE AFFAIRS (1988) {*7} marked a new songwriting maturity, GRIFFITH creating a thematic continuity on the subject of love in various contexts, over the course of the album. After the live ONE FAIR SUMMER EVENING (1988) {*7}, Nanci moved into moved into more AOR-esque territory with STORMS (1989) {*8}, recorded in L.A. and produced by Glyn Johns, a man who’s had a hand in some of the best albums in rock history. His Midas touch gave Nanci her commercial breakthrough, in the UK at least, where the record made the Top 40.
LATE NIGHT GRANDE HOTEL (1991) {*7}, continued in a similar vein, employing Peter Van Hooke and ROD ARGENT on production duties and adding strings to her primarily acoustic-based sound. Already a major star in Ireland (she also contributed to a number of The CHIEFTAINS releases) where she regularly has sell-out tours, GRIFFITH finally made the UK Top 20 in 1993 with OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS {*7}, a completely covers album that saw a return to her folk roots.
A tribute to her favourite songwriters, among the album’s many highlights was a plaintive reading of JOHN PRINE’s `Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness’ as well as a sensitive cover of the late TOWNES VAN ZANDT’s `Tecumseh Valley’, the record seeing GRIFFITH renewing her partnership with her early producer Jim Rooney; other best known tracks stemmed from KATE WOLF (`Across The Great Divide’), RALPH McTELL (`From Clare To Here’), TOM PAXTON (`Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound’), WOODY GUTHRIE (`Do Re Mi’), JANIS IAN (`This Old Town’), GORDON LIGHTFOOT (`Ten Degrees And Getting Colder’), JERRY JEFF WALKER (`Morning Song For Sally’) and DYLAN’s `Boots Of Spanish Leather’).
Subsequent albums FLYER (1994) {*7} and BLUE ROSES FROM THE MOONS (1997) {*6} have seen GRIFFITH consolidate her position as one of the most respected artists in the singer/songwriter/interpreter genre alongside EMMYLOU HARRIS.
Following on from 1998’s covers set OTHER VOICES, TOO (A TRIP TO THE BOUNTIFUL) {*7}, GRIFFITH released the ambitious and not entirely successful DUST BOWL SYMPHONY (1999) {*6}. A brace of past favourites underscored by the London Symphony Orchestra, the record was a rather uncomfortable meeting of classical and country, formal and informal. The covers set was boosted by folk and country songs from RICHARD THOMPSON, SANDY DENNY, The WEAVERS, Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker (alias IAN & SYLVIA), SONNY CURTIS, GUY CLARK, WOODY GUTHRIE, JOHNNY CASH, TOM RUSSELL, STEVE GILLETTE and great American composer Stephen Foster.
CLOCK WITHOUT HANDS (2001) {*6} found her back on more familiar, if not exactly inspiring, ground, her first set of wholly original material in almost five years. The live WINTER MARQUEE (2002) {*6} was much more heartening, a back-to-the roots concert set with Nanci in fine voice, accompanied by EMMYLOU HARRIS and TOM RUSSELL, and covering the likes of DYLAN’s `Boots Of Spanish Leather’, PHIL OCHS’ `What’s That I Hear’ and TOWNES VAN ZANDT’s `White Freight Liner’, as well as her trademark version of `Speed Of…’.
After years plying her trade but straddling both folk and country musical estates, Nanci was finally invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in 2003, while the following year she took inspiration from a trip to Southeast Asia and the Iraq invasion by way of `Big Blue Ball Of War’ on the following year’s HEARTS IN MIND {*6} set.
RUBY’S TORCH (2006) {*6} – her first on the Rounder roster – only had two GRIFFITH originals, the rest were sourced from other artists (once again) including three by TOM WAITS: `Grapefruit Moon’, `Please Call Me, Baby’ and `Ruby’s Arms’. A little absent by way of writer’s block, Nanci (with help from her guitarist songwriter Thomm Jutz) completed her comeback of sorts THE LOVING KIND (2009) {*6}.
As much about her transformation into a country star as her struggles with loss and loneliness, 2012’s INTERSECTION {*6} focused on the clear and narrative. Several pieces strung together at her Nashville home with co-producers Maura Kennedy and Pat McInerney, there are a clutch of contemporary covers, led by BLAZE FOLEY’s `If I Could Only Fly’, LORETTA LYNN’s `High On A Mountain Top’, Mark Seliger’s `Never Going Back’ and Ron Davies’ `Waiting On A Dark Eyed Gal’.
Over the years, GRIFFITHS has covered a wide range of songs; the highlights being `Deadwood, South Dakota’ (ERIC TAYLOR), `Roseville Fair’ (BILL STAINES), `Heaven’ (Julie Gold), `Ballad Of Robin Wintersmith’ (Richard Dobson), `The Sun, Moon, And Starts’ (Vince Bell), `San Diego Serenade’ (TOM WAITS) and `Gravity Of The Situation’ (VIC CHESNUTT); the latter a collaboration with er… HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH.
© MC Strong 2000-2011/GFD2 / rev-up MCS Aug2015

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