Song of the Day, November 26: Time of Inconvenience by Nanci Griffith

griffithinconvenienceToday’s song is an unexpected surprise. Nanci Griffith is known for her smart, intimate songs, often careful character sketches or tender story songs. She is a lifelong fan of protest folk musicians like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, however, and frequently adds a song about the modern condition to her albums. Her 1994 release, Flyer, is one of her best albums, containing almost entirely Griffith’s original compositions.

A highlight is the powerful Time of Inconvenience, a weary but determined look at the inequities of living in late 20th Century America. Her clear vocals have just the right bite as she dissects the forces that try to run the country only for their own gain.

We’re living in the age of communication
Where the only voices heard have money in their hands
Where greed has become a sophistication
And if you ain’t got money
You ain’t got nothin’ in this land

Sadly, her words resonate even more strongly more than 20 years later. Enjoy this wonderful song today.

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Song of the Day, April 22: I Knew Love by Nanci Griffith

GriffithIKnewToday’s song is I Knew Love from Nanci Griffith’s lovely 1988 album Little Love Affairs. Like most of her releases, the disc mixes wonderful original songs with well-chosen covers. This track was written by Roger Brown and is a nice fit for the nostalgic, hopeful tone of the album.

It’s a sweetly sad song, with the narrator reflecting on the way the passage of time can take some of the gloss of feelings of love. Griffith’s fragile voice is the perfect vehicle for the lyrics, which hint at bitterness but settle into a weary resignation. Her ability to make the most of her reflections of love gone by manage to invest the song with just a hint of optimism. It’s a wonderful package, anchored by the aching title line, “I knew love when it was more than just a word.”

Enjoy this lovely song today.

Song of the Day, September 19: Lookin’ For the Time (Working Girl) by Nanci Griffith

NanciLookinToday’s song is Nanci Griffith’s Lookin’ For the Time (Working Girl). It’s a standout track on her delightful 1986 album, Last of the True Believers. A fun romp, it features the singer channeling a working girl impatient with the flimsy advances of an uncertain suitor. Delivered at a breakneck pace, it captures her frustration perfectly. Griffith also mixes a wonderful growl into her vocals, lending a nice edge to the delivery.

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, April 1: Nanci Griffith’s Little Love Affairs

Chieftains(Griffith)IrishLLAToday’s song is Little Love Affairs. Singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith wrote the song with James Hooker as the title track to her lovely sixth album. It’s a tender tribute to the surprising nature of love and the power it lends to those who share it. Her fragile voice is perfect for the sweet lyrics and it’s a high point of a wonderful album.

Griffith is a major star in Ireland and has developed a real love of the country over the years, including songs about the land and people on a number of her albums. During her time there, she became friends with the Chieftains. Formed in 1962, they are the most well-known proponents of traditional Irish music. Their unparalleled musicianship and lively sense of fun have helped millions learn and enjoy the rich tapestry of their homeland’s musical history.

The Chieftains are also inveterate collaborators and have worked with a dizzying array of musicians from all backgrounds during their five decades together. When they recorded the live album An Irish Evening in Belfast in 1992, including Griffith was an obvious choice. She contributes vocals to three songs on the album, including two of her own compositions. The sweet acoustic accompaniment of the Chieftains traditional instrumentation lends an ethereal quality to Little Love Affairs that manages to eclipse the wonderful original recording.

Enjoy this delightful collaboration today.

Song of the Day, October 17: The Ballad of Robin Winter-Smith by Nanci Griffith

RobinWSToday’s song is The Ballad of Robin Winter-Smith. It was written by veteran Texas singer and songwriter Richard Dobson. Although not well known in his own right, Dobson has worked with an impressive array of country stars. This song was most famously covered by Nanci Griffith on her third album, Once In A Very Blue Moon.

The song is based on the true story of Winter-Smith, a British motorcycle rider and stunt jumper. He briefly held the British distance record (189 feet). In an attempt to regain the record, he set out to jump 30 Rolls Royces, a distance of 212 feet. He came up short, striking the 28th car and dying in the crash.

Dobson frames the song nicely, having the singer hear the story on the news. The simple domestic setting contrasts nicely with the sensational tale. He balances admiration and bafflement. He respects Winter-Smith’s dedication, “He was a very brave man if you get my drift,” but can’t imagine the choice he made. As a fellow performer, however, he acknowledges that we all have our calling.

I make a livin’ a-playin’ these songs and I hang out in bars
I play my guitar… oh, but honey, I don’t jump over cars

Griffith makes the most of the song, romping through it with her band like the motorcycle heading for the ramp. She drops from her usual range to a growl at the end of key lines, emphasizing the nature of the tale.

Enjoy this great version of a fun song today.

Song of the Day, February 6: Fly by Night by Nanci Griffith

GriffithFlyToday’s song is Fly By Night by Nanci Griffith. It’s a great uptempo number from her brilliant album Last of the True Believers.

With wonderful grit in her voice, Griffith drives home the lyrics, lambasting a lover of questionable fidelity. She declares her independence, vowing to spend her time watching the lonely rather than waiting for the unfaithful.

I’ll be standin’ on the corner watchin’ the men folk go by
I don’t wanna touch ’em honey, I’ll look them in the eye
And say, “Tonight I am out on these streets to watch the lonely hearts go flyin’.”
Don’t they fly by night?

Enjoy this potent song of independence today.

Song of the Day, November 30: I Would Change My Life by Nanci Griffith

Today’s song is I Would Change My Life by Nanci Griffith. It appears on her 1988 album Little Love Affairs, a beautiful collection of songs about the conditions of the human heart. While a great songwriter herself, Griffith has always had an ear for perfect tunes to cover. This song by fellow Austinite Robert Earl Keen, Jr. fits perfectly alongside her original songs. It’s a heartbreaking song of love lost, delivered perfectly in Griffith’s brittle, bittersweet vocals.

I would change my life
I would make it right
I would change my life
If you would only change your mind

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Album of the Week, November 25: Last of the True Believers by Nanci Griffith

Nanci Griffith emerged from the Austin country scene in the early 80s, crafting music she calls “folkabilly.” A gifted singer and writer, she has racked up an impressive array of critically acclaimed albums. Sadly sidelined by label executives who deemed her distinctive, crystalline voice “uncommercial” she has achieved her biggest chart success when others have covered her tunes for Country gold. (Notable are Kathy Mattea’s cover of Love At the Five and Dime [#3 in 1986] and Suzy Bogguss’ spot-on reading of Outbound Plane [#9 in 1992].) A gifted writer in her own right, Griffith also has an ear for the perfect songs to cover, including an early reading of Lyle Lovett with If I Were the Woman You Wanted. Her version of Julie Gold’s From A Distance is achingly beautiful — unlike Bette Midler’s bombastic reading — and has become a staple of her live shows. Griffith’s finest recording is her fourth album, the disc that launched her larger career.

Title Last of the True Believers
Act Nanci Griffith
Label Philo Release Date 1986
Producer Jim Rooney and Nanci Griffith
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Last of the True Believers
  2. Love At the Five and Dime
  3. St. Olav’s Gate
  4. More Than A Whisper
  5. Banks of the Pontchartrain
  6. Lookin’ For the Time (Workin’ Girl)
  7. Goin’ Gone
  8. One of These Days
  9. Love’s Found A Shoulder
  10. Fly By Night
  11. The Wing & the Wheel

Last of the True Believers was Griffith’s fourth album on Philo, a Rounder subsidiary. By 1986 she had moved to Nashville and expanded her musical circle. Her songwriting sophistication had grown substantially from its promising start, and she turned out an amazing set of 11 songs that is notable for its beauty and its consistency.

The album starts strong with the title track, an energetic tribute to wandering and to the power of having a place to call home. This theme carries through the album — and indeed through much of Griffith’s work over the years. The second track builds an intimate portrait of these themes. Love At the Five and Dime is a perfect story song, telling the tale of a musician and his wife from their meeting at the dime store through the travails of his career and the love that keeps them strong over the years. It’s sweet and reflective without being cloying and shows Griffith at her songwriting finest.

After these two originals we’re treated to one of the two covers on the disc, Tom Russell’s St. Olav’s Gate. Another story song, it is a tribute to making the most of the moments you get and a wonderfully danceable song of love’s lessons. Griffith then goes reflective with More Than A Whisper, a bittersweet plea for a true declaration from an often-distant lover. The song has just the right ache, leading into the next song, the nostalgic Banks of the Ponchartrain. This song yearns for simpler times and the comfort of a familiar lover.

From there, things take a more whimsical turn as Griffith channels a “workin’ girl” in Lookin’ For the Time. A delightful romp of independent spirit, it’s delivered in a tasty growl, something the singer uses sparingly but to great effect. The next track is one of the highlights, Goin’ Gone. Written by long-time Griffith associate Pat Alger, it is a lovely surrender to the power of love, delivered in one of Griffith’s finest vocals.

From there she moves to nostalgia again with One of These Days and Love’s Found A Shoulder, two solid tracks that carry on the album’s themes nicely. Griffith gets rambunctious again with Fly By Night. A powerful statement of independence, it’s a gritty kiss-off to an unfaithful lover with just a touch of that growl coming back to bid him goodbye. Things wrap up with the sweet The Wing and the Wheel, a straightforward song about travelling — its powers and its perils. It closes the album perfectly, wrapping up the themes set up at the beginning with a quite finality and a hopeful wish.

Last of the True Believers was powerful enough that it landed Griffith a major label contract with MCA, where she stayed for a decade before moving to Elektra. She’s recorded over a dozen more wonderful albums, each with its particular charms, but nothing quite captures the magic like this early disc whose songs remain stalwarts of her live shows today.

FURTHER LISTENING: A close second is Griffith’s second MCA disc, Little Love Affairs from 1988. It’s a great set of originals and covers (including her original version of Outbound Plane) and features a stellar cast of guests. It was followed by the wonderful live disc One Fair Summer Evening, a great showcase of her songs and her live energy. Given Griffith’s knack for picking collaborators and writers to cover, it’s no surprise that Other Voices Other Rooms, a disc filled with both, is also a stellar listen.

Song of the Day, September 28: More Than A Whisper by Nanci Griffith

Today’s song is More Than A Whisper by Nanci Griffith. It’s another standout track from her 1986 masterpiece Last of the True Believers. The lyrics depict a lonely woman reflecting on a long-distance, on-again / off-again relationship. Bittersweet as many of Griffith’s best songs are, it has a core of inner strength that tempers the sorrow.

How I wish that you would call; we have not spoken since last fall
Now that smokey conversation’s come and gone.
Do I just read between your lines or could it be this winter wine?
So sweet upon my tongue tonight — recalls your tender eyes

I need more than a whisper, so much more than a whisper,
It takes more than a whisper to wake this weary fool.
Give me more than a whisper if you’re saying I love you
‘Cause it’s the whispers I have never understood.

Griffith’s delivery is perfect, and she captures that spirit in live performances delightfully. Enjoy this flawless live performance of a beautiful song today.

Song of the Day, July 6: Last of the True Believers by Nanci Griffith

Today’s song is Last of the True Believers by Nanci Griffith. It’s the title track from her beautiful, brilliant fourth album, recorded before she began her stint with the major labels. A classic Griffith composition of wandering, it asks hard questions about the nature of home and the role of love.

Last of the true believers
Have you grown weary all alone?
You could go home again…home again…home

Today is Nanci Griffith’s 59th birthday. Enjoy this wonderful song and wish her many happy returns.

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