Wiltern marquee

Patty Griffin – A Precious and Beautiful Prayer

I have never been particularly religious. There have been a few times in my life where a house of worship worked its magic and perhaps had a minor pull on my soul. As a kid, I used to walk up the imposing steps of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and pretend to genuflect at the front of the vast and severe sanctuary. I never knew the exact trajectory of the movements, but I gave it a valiant try. Of course, one can’t help be staggered and humbled by Paris’s Notre Dame, Florence’s Duomo, and a smattering of churches throughout Europe. I wouldn’t have balked at settling for a spell into Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, if for no other reason than to marvel at Gaudi’s intricate genius. In early June, I attended a family wedding in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles at a temple that had recently undergone an extensive (and expensive) renovation. The wedding was beautiful. The visit to the temple, however, didn’t rekindle any desire for spiritual relief.

But religion found me a few nights ago mere blocks from the dome of Los Angeles’s magnificent landmark Wilshire Boulevard Temple (1929). One of the sweetest, most beautiful concert venues in the city is the art deco Wiltern Theater (1931), also an architectural landmark. And on that night, in that stunning setting, I was lucky enough to be swept away by the voice of Patty Griffin, one of the most beautiful in popular music. A songwriter of ubiquity and renown, the 49-year-old Griffin is still criminally unknown to mainstream audiences. But her songs have been recorded and performed by artists ranging from the Dixie Chicks to Solomon Burke to Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris to Miranda Lambert to Kelly Clarkson to Joan Baez. She was also part of Robert Plant’s Band of Joy ensemble.

Her current tour is in support of her excellent new album, “American Kid,” an elegiac and poignant collection dedicated to the memory of her father. Her songs are like prayers to the fallen, the grieving, the hopeless, and the lost. They are of the moment and timeless and without peer. She can break your heart, heal your soul, or make you smile in recognition, because her words are our words; her stories are our stories; her memories are recognizable to all. She touches on the deepest part of humanity and captures the moments when nothing will soothe but the balm of a melody.

A deep religiosity has always flowed through Griffin’s songs (her 2009 album, “Downtown Church,” won the Grammy for Best Traditional Gospel Album), and her show at the Wiltern reminded me there are all kinds of religions. Within a few blocks, one can worship in a synagogue whose origins date back over 160 years, or one can sit in the nearly 100-year-old Wiltern, where I closed my eyes and let myself be transported to a heavenly dreamscape. As she sang in her classic song, “Mary,” which closed the show:

“Jesus says Mother I coulPatty Griffin musiciandn’t stay another day longer
Flies right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin’ his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place.”

This NPR Desk Concert performed by Patty Griffin and her band is an excellent introduction to her music. It was published on June 24, 2013.

Here is a link to a performance of another song from “American Kid,” which is a beautiful duet between Patty Griffin and Robert Plant.

And here’s a new discovery, a simply gorgeous duet with Emmylou Harris of “Mary.”

—by Peter Hoffman

2 Posted on July 8, 2013 by Stephen Dolainski · 1 comment

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