With a bit of juke-joint loose blues strumming rising from a National guitar, Patty Griffin leans into “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida” with a tortured cry on what becomes a steamy track with a deep, surging pocket. A swampy exhortation, it is Appalachia gone gator with the songwriter’s fevered enjoinder given further urgency as her soprano swings from wide-open wail to silken surrender.
Death and displacement are certainly themes on American Kid. A more aggressive acoustic offering from the woman who rocked hard on Flaming Red, yet haunted on the spare folk of Poor Man’s House, American Kid creates its lean immediacy by enlisting the North Mississippi Allstars to strip down to their most organic.
Even the slow acoustic hiss of “Wild Old Dog” has a languidity that suspends time and gravity, Griffin singing about a cast-off old dog taken off the side of the road who can never quite settle in. It’s not until the chorus the spirituality of her intent rises: the dog being God who’s never comfortable with what we’ve created and yearns to be free of our expectations. Jaw-droppingly beautiful, it’s provocative beyond words.
Patty Griffin has always written wonderful miniatures of people, moments, realizations. Taking emotional truths and cutting to the quick, her razor-sharp sense of detail has never been sharper: the bawdy shanty reel “Get Ready Marie” captures the moment of knowing this girl who won’t put out can deliver, while the conga-tapped “Ohio” twitches on a cloud of witchiness, the call of slaves heading North that features ethereal vocals from Robert Plant.
Evocation is something Griffin has always had a black belt in. Strength in vulnerability, dignity in devastation, she is as Dust Bowl in her elegance as she is electric in the unfiltered emotions she serves. The slow stroll of “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone” takes the prayer-like softness of her silvery hush and builds to the cavernous sorrow of her velvety midrange, while the John Prine-evoking “Go Wherever You Want To Go” celebrates suffering’s end with an innocence that makes death seem like one giant relief.
The tortured “Not a Bad Man” has a gentleness to its explanation of a veteran’s ghosts that evokes understanding; ditto the stoic isolation tempering of the “Faithful Son,” who did everything right but missed living. Finally with the Willa Cather-steeped tenderness of “Mom & Dad’s Waltz,” Griffin reminds us it is where we are that is to be celebrated: appreciate what we’re given while we’re here and help those around us when we can.