100 Greatest Women, #68: Patty Griffin

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#68

Patty Griffin

2008 Edition: New Entry

From humble beginnings on the coffeehouse circuit in Boston, Patty Griffin has maintained a lengthy career as one of the most respected singer-songwriters in country and Americana.

Griffin first began performing around Boston following the dissolution of her first marriage in 1992, and she recorded a rough-hewn demo that included only her voice and acoustic guitar. That demo made its way to executives at A&M Records, who attempted to beef up the production on Griffin’s songs and performances. When that proved ill-fitting, A&M and producer Nile Rodgers issued her debut, Living With Ghosts, from slightly reworked versions of those initial demo recordings.

The album immediately announced Griffin as a singer-songwriter of extraordinary power and distinction. From her full-throated wail on opener “Moses” to the deep regret of “Every Little Bit” and astonishing glimpse at contemporary poverty on “Poor Man’s House,” Living With Ghosts proved that Griffin was among her generation’s finest songwriters and among her most versatile and still underrated vocalists.

For her follow-up, Griffin again tried to pair her songs with a full band. On Flaming Red, her attempts were far more successful, and the album found Griffin exploring various textures of country, folk, rock, and even trip-hop. The album proved Griffin’s range as an artist, though it wanted for a distinct style. For her third album, she paired with producer Daniel Lanois in 2000 to record Silver Bell, but A&M Records was merged with Universal before the album was released, and Griffin, who had not yet had a commercial breakthrough, fell through the cracks. As her profile continued to rise over the subsequent decade, A&M finally released the album in 2013 to widespread acclaim.

In the interim, Griffin signed to ATO Records, a label founded by frat-rock superstar Dave Matthews. She released a series of albums (1000 Kisses, live set A Kiss in Time, and Impossible Dream) that mined a similar Americana vein as her Silver Bell recording sessions with Lanois.

With 2007’s Children Running Through, Griffin’s aesthetic shifted again, as she incorporated a heavy Southern gospel influence into her brand of country and folk. The result was Griffin’s most compelling and cohesive album since Living With Ghosts: Fully 15 years into her career, Griffin had found her unique niche. It was no coincidence that the album had her career-best debut— it bowed at #34 with 27,000 copies sold— and earned her an Album Of The Year award from the Americana Music Awards.

Griffin’s next album was a proper gospel record, produced by her long-time friend Buddy Miller and recorded in Nashville’s Downtown Presbyterian Church. Downtown Church continued Griffin’s winning streak, making another top 40 debut on the Billboard 200 albums chart and earning the Grammy for Best Traditional Gospel Album, her first Grammy award for her solo work following a win in 2010 for Best Gospel Album for Oh Happy Day, a compilation album from a variety of popular artists. Griffin’s most recent album, 2015’s Servant of Love, was nominated for the Grammy award for Best Folk Album.

While her solo work has made her a leading figure in contemporary Americana and has accounted for one of the richest catalogues of the past two decades, it is the number of artists who have covered Griffin’s songs that have made her such a vital figure in modern country music. The Dixie Chicks have been among her most vocal champions, having released covers of no less than five of Griffin’s finest songs, and Emmylou Harris, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, and Solomon Burke are among the other acts who have included Griffin’s songs on their albums, while her lengthy list of collaborators has included Harris, Buddy & Julie Miller, Jack Ingram, Shawn Colvin, Robert Plant, and Dierks Bentley.

Though Griffin has kept a relatively low profile over the past few years, her career serves as a reminder that country music, at its best, has allowed thoughtful, distinct talents like Griffin to influence its course. While the current state of the genre—at least not country radio– might not always reflect that, Griffin is among the artists who truly elevated country music as an art form throughout the aughts.

Essential Singles

  • Every Little Bit, 1996
  • Rain, 2003
  • Love Throw a Line, 2003
  • Top of The World (Dixie Chicks), 2003
  • Heavenly Day, 2007
  • Up to the Mountain (Kelly Clarkson), 2007
  • Ohio (featuring Robert Plant), 2013

Essential Albums

  • Living With Ghosts (1996)
  • Children Running Through (2007)
  • Downtown Church (2009)
  • American Kid (2013)
  • Silver Bell (2000 / 2013)

Industry Awards

  • Americana Music Association Honors & Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • Children Running Through, 2007
    • Artist of the Year, 2007
  • Dove Awards
    • Inspirational Album of the Year
      • Downtown Church, 2011
  • Grammy Awards
    • Best Traditional Gospel Album
      • Downtown Church, 2011

 

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #67. Suzy Bogguss

Previous: #69. Bobbie Gentry

 

2 Comments

  1. Patty Griffin is a pure singer-songwriter at heart. I love her Living With Ghosts, American Kid, and Silver Bell albums.

  2. We had a chance to see Patty Griffin twice in one year a couple of years ago! She did a 45 minute set, but then had to stop due to being sick with a throat that was failing her. However, since she’s a class act, she came back a few months later and everyone who had tickets to the first show was invited to go for free to the second one. Even with her throat issues, she sounded great in the first show and even better for the second one! It was especially fun because she knew our area, since she grew up only 20 minutes from the town we live in and it had been many years since she had done a concert here. So, she shared a lot of memories with us about the area and where she started singing in her unknown days.

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