wears the trousers magazine


nanci griffith: the loving kind (2009)
July 27, 2009, 9:53 pm
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , ,

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Nanci Griffith
The Loving Kind ••
Rounder

After 2004’s Hearts In Mind, Nanci Griffith, struggling with writer’s block, came back with 2006’s torch-jazz set Ruby’s Torch before finding her muse again for The Loving Kind, her 17th studio release. It represents a return to country music, with strong influences from folk and bluegrass injected into the mix, and while this makes for a perfectly pleasant listen, it’s not exactly unconventional and often strays worryingly into bland and over-earnest mush. As ever, Griffith showcases an undoubtedly competent songwriting and performance style, but there is absolutely nothing illuminating or fresh about any of the material. Many of the songs sound like unfinished demos, which on one hand lends the album a welcome homespun atmosphere, but on the other leaves Griffith sounding distinctly uninspired.

While some of the songs exhibit a total lack of imagination, with staid arrangements and predictable chord progressions, it would be cruel to overlook the album’s worthier moments. Opener ‘The Loving Kind’ sets the tone with a tasteful country arrangement incorporating the familiar sound of pedal steel as Griffith sings of the landmark interracial marriage between Richard and Mildred Loving, which ended in tragedy just a few years after they changed the face of the American justice system. Griffith’s version of Gale Trippsmith’s ‘Money Changes Everything’ features a sparser and consequently more interesting arrangement that even strays into vaguely funky territory with its percussive nature. The sentiment, however, is not exactly sparkling new stuff. Still, the use of electric piano at the song’s climax is a delightful touch.

The Loving Kind is not an album where it is necessarily easy to pick highlights, especially on early listens wherein the songs seem to blend into one another, but ‘Up Against the Rain’ is one of the better slower tempo numbers. Here, Griffith recounts the story of Townes van Zandt with another reasonably bare arrangement and nostalgic melody that, at times, recalls Carole King’s ‘Home Again’. Elsewhere, ‘Things I Don’t Need’ brings some much-needed dynamism to an album where the melodies more or less stay comparatively static, and ‘Sing’ makes use of a lighter arrangement to draw the listener in. The Obama-celebrating ‘Across America’ is a welcome change of pace, while a cover of Dee Moeller’s ‘Party Girl’ brings a bluesier touch to proceedings.

On the blander side are ‘One Of These Days’ in which Griffith indulges in pretty standard country fare with, again, the unimaginative use of pedal steel, and the belatedly Bush-bashing ‘Still Life’ – an almost painfully meandering track that is only saved by a pleasant arrangement marrying acoustic guitar and piano. One of the more head-scratching numbers is ‘Not Innocent Enough’, where John Prine makes a frankly inappropriate, and one might say cheesy, cameo in a spoken-word role at the end of the song. The album ends with a couple of clichéd drinking songs, Moeller’s ‘Tequila After Midnight’ (which does feature some very attractive female harmony vocals) and ‘Pour Me A Drink’, which ends the record on a dreary, dragging note.

There is nothing essentially wrong or bad about The Loving Kind, but that’s part of the problem. You almost wish there was something ‘wrong’ with it, in order to stir up some kind of passion for the songs. Alas, there is hardly anything here to get remotely excited over. Griffith and her backing band play it safe all the way through. It may well be an improvement on recent Griffith records, and there are some positives to take from a record that is warm, nostalgic and inviting, but ultimately it is unlikely to bring any new fans into the fold.

Matt Barton
UK release date: 29/06/09; www.myspace.com/nancigriffith

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