Archive for the ‘Nanci Griffith’ Category

Years long ago, on the early evening of Saturday Sept. 6, 1997, Diane and I saddled up our faithful Dodge Colt and traipsed the trails fantastic to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa., to see Nanci Griffith at what must have been the apex of her touring career. And eight days later, we set out on a longer sojourn, this time to the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Del., to see her again. Supporting and joining her on both occasions: the Crickets (aka, Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison and Joe Maudlin).

The Tower fits a little more than 3000; and the Opera House a bit more than 1200. I’m not sure, now, if one or both were sold out, but given her popularity at the time, I’d guess that, if they weren’t, they were close. She’d been on something of a commercial roll since her major-label debut in 1987, Lone Star State of Mind, with each new release expanding her audience while simultaneously expanding her sound. She didn’t approach her music as a lather-rinse-repeat exercise, in which every new release sounded like the old, but as a mode for artistic expression and exploration. Pop sensibilities surfaced on the classic Storms (1989) and less-classic Late Night Grand Hotel (1991), for example, but receded for her 1993 collection of folk covers, Other Voices, Other Rooms and what may well be her finest album ever, 1994’s Flyer, which were both folk- and folkabilly-minded affairs.

Blue Roses From the Moons, released in March 1997, was both solid and sad, however. Primarily recorded live in the studio with her longtime band, the Blue Moon Orchestra, and the Crickets, it veers from the sublime (“Everything’s Comin’ Up Roses”) to the ridiculous (a cover of Nick Lowe’s “I Live on a Battlefield”) and back again, and revisits old themes (“Saint Teresa of Avila”) and even old songs (“Gulf Coast Highway,” this time with Darius Rucker subbing for James Hooker). And, truthfully, her voice often sounds shot.

To the shows: The Crickets didn’t open. Instead, Nanci and the Blue Moon Orchestra came out first and played for 40 (give or take) minutes, with the Crickets joining Nanci for the Sonny Curtis-penned theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Love Is All Around.” With the baton thus handed off, the Crickets then played for about half an hour, with their set including – as one would expect – a few Buddy Holly chestnuts. Nanci and the Blue Moon Orchestra then closed out the night.

My memory of the Tower show is near non-existent despite the ticket showing us as having very good seats, while my recall of the Wilmington show is slightly better, though I don’t remember meeting members of the Crickets afterwards, which Diane says we did. That said, I do remember leaving both thinking that the concerts were solid, but not sublime, with my favorite moment of each being…the MTM theme, plus the older material, especially “Trouble in the Fields” and “The Wing & the Wheel.”

The Crickets were fun, and Nanci and the band were in good form – but placing ‘50s-styled rock ’n’ roll in the middle of Nanci’s country-folk stylings didn’t quite jell the way one might think it would or should.

That said, one of the encores, “Well, All Right” (from the Not Fade Away Buddy Holly tribute CD released in 1996) was a delight.

This was the set list from Denver a few months later: 

Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
Across the Great Divide
Two for the Road
These Days in an Open Book
Love at the Five and Dime
Ford Econoline
Gulf Coast Highway
Love is All Around
Do You Wanna Be Loved
I Fought the Law

Oh Boy
Lover You More than I Can Say
Maybe Baby
Everyday
Summertime Blues
I Gotta Pass
The Real Buddy Holly Story
True Love Ways
Peggy Sue
That’ll Be the Day
Rave On

Everything’s Comin’ Up Roses
The Flyer
Tecumseh Valley
She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Boots of Spanish Leather
It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go
I’ll Still Be Someone
Walk Right Back
Not My Way Home
This Heart

Encore:

Well Alright
Trouble in the Fields
The Wing & the Wheel
Darcy Farrow

This morning, during a rather hellacious commute, I whiled away the time listening to Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, which is an early contender for my esteemed Album of the Year honors, and then listened to it again. I listened to it on the way home yesterday, and the day before that, and almost every day since its release.

It’s everything good about music. As I said in my First Impressions piece, “it’s the sound not of a generation, but of the generations.”

I told Diane as we were leaving her Boot & Saddle show last month that it’s likely the last time she’ll play there. The next time she’s in Philly (XPoNential Festival aside), she’ll be headlining the World Cafe Live’s downstairs room, which holds 300 to 600 (depending on whether tables are present; let’s hope for tables, as us old folks can only go so long on our feet), and instead of 100 fans in the room, it’ll be sold out. (Of course, I predicted that after we learned from Dillon Warnek that they were slated to appear on NPR’s World Cafe radio show two days later.) I hope I’m right.

Anyway, one of the thoughts that crossed my mind this morning: Songs that Courtney could and should cover – and not just any songs. Timeless songs, like hers.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Timeless Songs.

1) Iris DeMent – “Livin’ in the Wasteland of the Free.” This is one of Iris’ most passionate and political songs, and even now – 20-plus years later – it resonates because, truth be told, not much has changed in the intervening years. And twang accent aside, it’s a perfect fit for Courtney. 

2) Merle Haggard – “If We Make It Through December.” One of the greatest songs about hard times ever written or performed.

3) Kris Kristofferson – “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Another stone-cold classic, though one that’s been covered many, many times by many artists through the years.

4) Steve Earle – “Someday.” Another gem about working-class realities, and dreams of escape. (From Steve’s essential Guitar Town album.) Courtney would kill it. 

5) June Carter – “Juke Box Blues.” Long before she became Mrs. Cash, June was Nashville royalty – for good reason, of course. That said, she was often cast into comedy numbers due to the fact that she often shared the stage with sister Anita, whose voice is beauty set to song. “Juke Box Blues” was the B side to “No Swallerin’ Place,” a 1953 single. Unlike the A side, which is a joke set to a melody, the song is comedic primarily due to June’s delivery; the lyrics themselves are a testament to the power of music. (It was written by June’s mother Maybelle and sister Helen, for what that’s worth.) It’s long overdue for a revival – plus, Dillon could have a field day on guitar.)  

And one bonus…

6) Nanci Griffith – “If Wishes Were Changes.” What can be said about this gem? In short, to use one of my many overused words, it’s wondrous.

I’d planned to trip back in time today to the fabled Summer of Love, but found myself distracted by the events of the present.

As I write, Hurricane Irma is ravaging Florida’s west coast. We’ve weathered a few hurricanes here in the Delaware Valley through the decades, though nothing of Irma’s magnitude – we’re far enough inland that they’re generally teetering on tropical status by the time they reach us. But I remember one – Irene I believe, in 2011 – that found Diane and I, and our wooly bully of a cat, huddled in our stairwell (the safest place in our old apartment) while the storm thrashed outside and tornado warnings flashed incessantly on our cell phones.

Storms (of all kinds) eventually pass, just never as fast as we would like.

1) Which leads to the first entrant in today’s Top 5, “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Springsteen wrote it following a storm of another stripe, of course, and paired the joyous melody with bittersweet lyrics about overcoming grief.

2) Storms, as evidenced by that Bruce song, work well as metaphors. This Nanci Griffith song, which was penned by her former husband, Eric Taylor, is another example…

3) …as is this one from the Nobel Prize-winning bard, Bob Dylan:

4) There’s also this classic from Neil Young:

5) And, finally, “Shelter” from Lone Justice, a song I could play on a loop for weeks on end.

There are far more important concerns than NPR’s 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women list. This, we know. Yet, while breezing through it Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help but to (silently) scream.

First and foremost: Albums from last year are on it. Seriously?! Maybe it’s me, but placing any recently released album on a “best of all time” list is short-sighted; we don’t know whether it will, as most great albums do, grow stronger through the years or fall from favor. The former is (obviously) the case for Joni Mitchell’s Blue (from 1971), the top pick, and Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (from 1967), No. 4 (which really should have been No. 2). They speak universal truths of the human condition that are applicable to every generation and age; i.e., they both reflect and transcend their time.

That’s one reason why my Essentials series has a strict “at least five years old” policy. “Classic” status only kicks in if you continually return to an album – and not just for nostalgia’s sake – time and again through the years.

Another reason for my (silent) scream: The exclusion of many great and influential albums at the expense of…Britney Spears?! The Spice Girls?! Isn’t that a bit like including David Cassidy and the Osmond Brothers on an all-male list? I also have serious doubts about any list that ranks Hole higher than Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde. They kicked down the door for Courtney Love (and all other women rockers who followed them, for that matter). I agree that the debuts of Tracy Chapman and the Indigo Girls should be included, but 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe and Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing set the stage for them. And Vega’s 99.9° deserves mention, too, as does Madonna’s True Blue.

But, of course, that’s part and parcel with these sorts of lists. I’ve never seen one that I agree with – from Rolling Stone‘s to Entertainment Weekly‘s to Mojo‘s. They’re generally the creation of a small band of voters who share the same basic dispositions. I.e., they’re good for starting arguments, little else.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Albums MIA From NPR’s “Made by Women” List. (Where they fall is anyone’s guess… so I’m placing them in chronological order.) And, yes – I could well have called this Top 5 “My Regulars.” I’ve featured all of them many times.

1) Lone Justice – Lone Justice (1985). Selected song: “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling).” I’ve written about this album, and spotlighted this song, many times before, of course, including in my first Essentials entry. It’s a genre-shattering, epoch-changing album that set the stage for the alt.country boom a decade later.

2) 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe (1987). Selected song: “Hey Jack Kerouac.” A folk-rock band from upstate New York, the Maniacs were (and remain) a wondrous group of eccentrics with a serious knack for crafting cool and catchy tunes. Who else could have come up with this swinging ode to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and the beats? Their success paved the way for other late-‘80s (and beyond) folk-flavored singers and bands, from Tracy Chapman to the Indigo Girls to Innocence Mission.

3) Blake Babies – Sunburn (1990). Selected song: “Sanctify.” You want punk? You want spunk? You want an album that, whether anyone heard it or not, helped kick off the ‘90s wave of women-led rock bands? That could be said to be a true alt.college-rock album? That sounds like it was recorded yesterday? Then pick up this classic from Juliana Hatfield & Co. (And be sure to get Earwig, too). This song brings a “heavy metal rain” upon one’s head…

4) Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo (2004). Selected song: “Tourist.” On her own, Juliana has released a slew of stupendous albums, from Hey Babe (1992) to Pussycat (2017) – but I’m limiting myself to this one (and the Blake Babies) because, well, it’s great – her second to win my esteemed Album of the Year, in fact. Just as a side note: I clearly remember when and where I first heard it – on the day of its release in my Dodge Neon while on my way to pick up my wife.

5) Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2010). Selected song: “On My Way Home.” I’ve written (too many times) about this album before, most recently in my Essentials series. At once retro and modern, it went platinum twice-over in the U.K. and topped the iTunes charts in the States; and it’s influenced other singers in the U.K. to follow the same stylistic path.

And two (non-chronological) bonuses:

6) Rosanne Cash – Interiors (1990). Selected song: “What We Really Want.” Rosanne Cash shed the country label with this, her seventh album, which owes a heavy debt to Joni Mitchell and the other confessional singer-songwriters of the early ‘70s. It’s stark and powerful, and a glimpse of the internal demons haunting her at the time.

7) Nanci Griffith – Other Voices, Other Rooms (1993). Selected song: “Speed at the Sound of Loneliness.” In the early 1990s, after a string of successful albums, Nanci celebrated her influences on the sublime Other Voices album; and won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album as a result.