Music legend Nanci Griffith is returning to Ireland next month, and her nationwide tour includes a concert date in the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, on Tuesday, February 16. Other stops include Limerick, Wexford, Kilkenny, Cork, Dublin, Monaghan and Meath.
Whether performing her own poetically evocative material or the compositions of her influences, friends and peers, Griffith’s instantly recognisable voice and powerful gift for inhabiting the songs she sings have earned her a massive following, a following that continues to grow with each new generation.
Griffith got an early start on her path to performing and song writing. At the age of six she began to write songs, thinking of it as “part of the process of learning how to play guitar.” Legendary songwriter Tom Russell, her earliest champion, first heard her singing around a campfire at the Kerrville Folk Festival, and a star was born.
Griffith’s career now spans almost 30 years. She first emerged as a writer of startling depth and subtlety, crafting sparse uncluttered vignettes that revealed a wealth of emotion in even the most humble of characters and settings.
Griffith has also grown into a formidable interpreter of other people’s songs, as demonstrated on the Grammy Award-winning 1993 album ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’.
Griffith says that her approach to song writing hasn’t changed over the years. “I just never know, any given day, what I’m going to wake up to.” Once she’s inspired, “it just all comes at once.”
Her latest album, ‘The Loving Kind’, skilfully touches on newsworthy issues as well as matters of the heart.
The title track sets the tone, telling the true story of how love triumphed over a social injustice that prevailed in the United States until 1967.
Mildred and Richard Loving were a mixed-race couple who were put in jail when they married in 1958, but their case eventually reached the US Supreme Court, where state laws against interracial marriage were struck down. “I read Mildred Loving’s obituary in The New York Times and it just floored me,” says Griffith. “She never remarried after Richard died, and in her last interview before she passed away she expressed hope that their case, Loving v Virginia, would eventually be the open door to same sex marriage.”
Another topical song is ‘Across America’ – an upbeat paean to the hope many Americans have experienced in this time of political change and new leadership. ‘Still Life’ is an indictment – “my opinion of George W Bush,” says Griffith.
But ‘The Loving Kind’ is also a showcase for the perceptive exploration of emotions, personalities, and relationships that Griffith is known for. ‘Things I Don’t Need’ ploughs that feeling most of us have had at one time or another when our lives are cluttered and, at the same time, lacking in what we really need.
‘Up Against The Rain’, while drawing on very close connections in the songwriter’s life, manages to transcend the personal, painting a portrait of a hero who never gives up the struggle. ‘Sing’ is an autobiographical ode to expression and inspiration. “Artists don’t choose to be artists, writers, or singers. It’s just something you know you have to do,” she explains.
Perhaps the most striking song on ‘The Loving Kind’ is ‘Not Innocent Enough’ – a poignant statement against the death penalty.
The song deals with the story of Philip Workman, accused of murdering a police officer, and convicted – with tainted testimony. “I started writing this song long before Philip was executed but just couldn’t finish it until that final injustice took place,” says Griffith. In the song, the focus is on human imperfection – and the finality of the looming punishment. “I am a total abolitionist on the death penalty. I just hope [the song] makes a difference.”
When the cause is championed with the eloquence Nanci Griffith brings to it, it just might.
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