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Interview:
Patty Griffin Enjoys Her "Goofy" Life
 


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Patty Griffin has long been something of a singer’s singer among her peers.

She’s been tapped to guest on albums by Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and Bruce Cockburn, among others. Her songs have also been covered by Harris, the Dixie Chicks, Linda Ronstadt, Bette Midler, Martina McBride, the Wreckers and others.

These days, however, Griffin finds herself the choice of a new generation of singers.

Inaugural “American Idol” Kelly Clarkson has called Griffin her “favorite person,” while Jessica Simpson recorded the Texas-based singersongwriter’s “Let Him Fly.” Their pop sounds are a long way from Griffin’s mix of gritty and ethereal fare, but she’s flattered by their embrace just the same.

“All I can say is I have an incredibly goofy life,” says Griffin, 43, who released her sixth album, “Children Running Through,” in February. “It’s all very surreal.

“But I certainly don’t have a problem with it. (Clarkson’s) a great singer, and I’m glad (‘Let Him Fly’) meant enough to (Simpson) for her to record it. It’s nice to get to be a writer and make a living off of the songs themselves.”

That, Griffin says, also liberates her to take whatever creative course she’d like on her own albums.

“Children Running Through” is another departure in what’s been an eclectic 12-year recording career. On it, the Maine-born Griffin — who began performing in Boston and now resides in Austin, Texas — explores a more soulful direction than she has before, even slipping in some gospel on the track “Heavenly Day,” which she refers to as “my first love song.”

But while these may be fresh sounds to Griffin’s fans, they’re hardly new territory for the singer.

“I cut my teeth on listening to soul singers — Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Irma Thomas,” Griffin explains. “In the ’80s, going back to my little room from my waitressing job, that was the stuff I listened to over and over again.

“I really didn’t have a clue how to translate that style into anything I could play, technically, so I really kind of left it behind. But I’m definitely influenced by it and just didn’t fight it anymore. And I think my playing’s come up to a level where I can support it and play it and figure out how to write it so it’s interesting — things I couldn’t figure out how to do before.”

Griffin had help on the album — which takes its title from a poem by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi — from co-producer Mike McCarthy, who set up a studio filled with “old gear,” particularly microphones, that helped Griffin achieve what she felt was a warm, authentic sound. The process, which included guest appearances by Harris and Solomon Burke, took about two and half months, which Griffin says is “long” for her to make an album.

But, she adds, it was time well spent.

“I was just really adamant about arranging the songs in such a way that things didn’t conflict with the vocal,” says Griffin, whose songs are the basis for a new musical, “10 Million Miles,” which the Off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company is opening in July. “There’s certain technical things about the way I have to play and sing that make it sound the way I want to.

“Also, I worried a little bit about that whole blue-eyed soul thing. I’ve got to be careful with that, because there’s a lot of people that can do it better than me. So we put a lot of effort into making it sound like my version of that kind of music, not my version of someone else’s version of it.”



Patty Griffin and Terremoto perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $25-$50. Call (734) 668-8463 or visit www.michtheater.org.

Web Site: www.michtheater.org

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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