Understated and emotive country-folk from lauded Austin songstress…
On stage at an Austin benefit gig last December, Patty Griffin introduced new beau Robert Plant as “my driver”. It’s a relationship that began when she was backing singer on his 2010 album Band Of Joy, and subsequent US tour, and one that carried through to live dates as deconstructivist rockers the Sensational Shape Shifters. Last summer Plant appeared to suggest they were married, only to refute everything days later. But whatever the detail, disclosed or otherwise, it’s a combination that looks set to run on. The couple have promised another Band Of Joy opus, the mood this time being “far out with psychedelic pedal steel”. In the meantime it’s no great surprise to learn that Plant crops up on Griffin’s new solo album.
The life of her father, a WWII vet and sometime Trappist monk who also found time to raise seven children, provides the back story to American Kid, Griffin’s first all-new offering since 2007. It’s a record that manages to sound deeply affectionate without being sentimental. The tender rumination of songs like “Wild Old Dog” and “Mom and Dad’s Waltz” accentuates the gentle ache in Griffin’s voice. It’s one that invites obvious comparisons with Alison Krauss, albeit packed with a little more weight and muscle.
Ohio is the pick of three tunes that also feature Plant. Though, unlike his work with Krauss on 2007’s Raising Sand, his is a more discreet, less tangible presence. It’s a yearning ballad set to the rustic buzz of a picked guitar, with Plant bringing soft backing harmonies to Griffin’s lead. He reprises the role on similarly low-key efforts “Faithful Son” and “Highway Song”.
American Kid’s most striking moments instead lay elsewhere. Not least on “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida”, whose driving electric guitar and trilling mandolin signal an uptempo note to an otherwise downtempo theme. Or the delicate choral stillness of “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone”. Griffin’s elegant phrasing and nuanced delivery make this a bewitching piece of work all round, with or without the hired help.