10 best by the legendary singer-songwriter

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With her little arch of mouth, ash hair and heart-shaped face, Nanci Griffith seemed more in love with Dust Bowl than the erudite songwriter with a skinny finger on the pulse of the human condition. Romantic, yet lucid, she told people’s stories with an attention to detail that would have made her literary heroines Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor and Willa Cather proud.

Photo Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Born in Seguin, TexasRaised playing in Austin coffeehouses as a teenager, Griffith emerged with an ether-like singing voice that could become jagged, even mundane in knowing places. She called it “folkabilly,” to honor its inspirations, and moved from indie folk/bluegrass label Philo to MCA Nashville, filling out the superproducer’s go-to quartet of Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, and Patty Loveless. Perhaps too – or not enough – country for radio, she moved up to Universal in California, dropped some of the twang and made some definitive adult alt albums before moving on to Nonesuch where her award-winning tribute grammys Other voices, other pieces – and its sequel A return trip to Bountiful – paired her with even more artists she respected. Griffith’s gift was how she distilled not just life, but her influences to honor what was – and create something that was uniquely her own. Other voices paid tribute to Kate Wolf, Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, Solomon Linda, Bob Dylan and Janis Ian; his “Speed ​​of the Sound of Loneliness”—with its video inspired by Wim Winders’ “Wings of Desire” featuring John Prine—was more a lullaby of compassion than a requiem for dead love.

An international and regular favorite on The Late Show with David Letterman1994 Prospectus marked the ultimate convergence of the world it had created. Co-produced by Rem’s Peter Buck, the work beyond genre showed the extent of its reach, with guests Mark Knopfler, Adam Clayton of U2 and Larry Mullen, Jr, Emmylou Harris, the Chieftains, Dave Schools of Widespread Panic, the Indigo Girls, Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz and the Cricketts, while writing with Country Music Hall of Famer Harlan Howard and “From A Distance” writer Julie Gold.

Singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith performs at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum on November 17, 1994 in Los Angeles, California.

Photo by Sherry Rayn Barnett/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Here are Nanci Griffith’s top 10 songs.

“Not Innocent Enough” The loving kind, 2009

Nanci Griffith, in the purest folk tradition, worked from a strong sense of social justice. The loving kindThe title track was inspired by the 1967 Supreme Court ruling on Loving v Virginia to strike down the miscegenation laws. More modern and urgent, “Not Innocent Enough” turned in the first person on death row inmate Philip Workman, who was executed despite new evidence suggesting his innocence. Confusing circumstances, fuzzy agendas, and the relativity of “guilty”, the song features a spoken word section by Workman on the coda.

“Great late night hotel”, Late Night Grand Hotel1991

A slight wheeze of accordion, piano, then drums crumble as Griffith’s more growling background sweeps through a song built on what love can be, but also independence. For a woman who gave her life to the road, it is the natural habitat of a romantic and a poet balancing the notion of love with the need for travel and healing. Stark, summoning Greta Garbo. This is the part no one ever admits.

“Ford Econoline”/”Lookin’ for the Time (Working Girl)” The lone star state of mind, 1987/Last of the True Believers, 1986

Hard scrabble women might seem like unlikely heroines to the songwriter who was equal parts Willa Cather and Eudora Welty. Yet the harshly strumming “Ford Econoline” celebrates music pioneer foik Sorrels, while the guttural roar of the slapdown chorus of “Lookin’ for the Time” is a sex worker’s cue to a client who can’t. to decide.

“Problems in the Fields” The lone star state of mind, 1987

Raised on the folks of Caroline Hester and Rosalie Sorrels, Griffith attained the harsh working-class reality of people who existed in a world of more primitive realities. Whether it’s sharecroppers, migrant workers or family farmers – it was apparent in the first wave of Farm Aid and the activism “keeping family farmers on the farm”, “Trouble In The Fields” captures how difficult this job is, the toll extracted and the strength it takes to face the days.

“There is a light beyond these woods” There’s a light beyond these woods, 1978

Young girls, great hope. With that voice that sounds like Alice in Wonderland on the brink of adulthood, Nanci Griffith thinks to her friend that there must be more. Long before the world knew who the young heart-faced songwriter was, people around Texas absorbed his worldly innocence and filigree acoustic guitar. A noticeable artist emerges.

“Gulf Coast Highway”, Little love affairs1988

Reading like a short story by Larry McMurtry, “Gulf Coast Highway” was a lifetime postcard from the Lone Star State starring Mac McAnally as the other half of a couple living in a small house along of Highway 90. Majestic in the way it moves, this is a simple love song that endures strung on the imagery of life through time, each year measured with the arrival of “a gentle spring blue hat”.

“Drive-in movies and dash lights,” Storms

Suddenly the world knew Nanci Griffith, whose folkabilly revolution charmed David Letterman and created a haven for young bookish women around the world. Rather than stay where she was, Griffith brought in producer Glyn Johns for the album who made the instruments more electric, crisp and clean. A stark, alternative record, “Drive-In Movies” was a time capsule of a girl’s life in the Lone Star State, 1969 that fell within the clichéd expectations that Griffith had shunned. Like that of Peter Bogdanovitch Last picture showit endures as not-so-innocence-turning-empty.

“It’s a hard life wherever you go” Storms, 1991

A late-night conversation between Griffith and a Belfast taxi driver opens the folksong, as he explains the odds a local child faces. The second verse finds the singer hanging out in a Chicago cafeteria where she encounters a racist man who poisons his children with hate.

“Cafeteria queue in Chicago/ The fat man in front of me/ Calls black people trash to his kids/ That’s the only trash here I see. Griffith sings. “And I think that man is wearing a white hood/ At night when his kids should be sleeping/ But they’ll slip to their window and they’ll see him/ And they’ll think that white hood is all they need.”

Rigid. Sobering.

“All You Need But Me” Prospectus, 1994

Having more than enough, “Anything” shows a woman leaving without malice, wishing the now old love well – but being clear “done is done”. Playful, acoustic guitar notes shine against her, the part of her little girl voice – chosen perhaps to remind the cad of what he broke – Griffith offers dignity while drawing a line and setting a clear boundary. . Walking the line has never been so smooth or so easy, which is anything but what most people find in these kinds of times.

“Love at Five & Dime”, The last of the true believers1986

Innocence has never been so sweet or convincing. Live Griffith showed the audience the little guitar “ting” buried in the track which was reminiscent of the sound of the lift in the Woolworths where she changed buses growing up. More importantly, the auburn-haired Rita was able to grow up and experience a fairy-tale romance with a musician who would retire as they grow old together.

Happily still delivered with the folksy purity, a bit of sparkle, and wrinkled-nose fun that Griffith found in particularly well-sketched stories. believers brought the big labels. “Five & Dime” gave Kathy Mattea her first real hit record. For fans, however, it was the essence of an artist who would captivate people around the world for nearly four decades.

READ MORE: 30 years later, Iris DeMent’s ‘Infamous Angel’ remains a masterpiece of country storytelling

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