Born in Seguin, Texas in 1953, the Nanci Griffith story took on a variety ofoccupations, but at heart she was a musical artist from the get go. Her first four albums were recorded on independent labels from 1978 onwards and generally showcase her own songs with occasional choice covers – ‘Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown’ by Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Lovett’s ‘If I Were The Woman You Wanted’. As she finds her poetic voice on the opening salvo of There’s A Light Beyond These Walls and Poet in My Window one discerns a talent aching to break free and this she does on the magnificent Once in a Very Blue Moon (1984) recorded at Cowboy Jack Clement’s Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa, Nashville, TN. Now her country voice is unfettered and top-notch players like Bela Fleck and Mark O’Connor back her. If that album will make her name – bringing her to an increasingly dedicated British fan base as well – she repeats the trick with The Last of the True Believers which includes ‘Goin’ Gone’, later a number one hit for Kathy Mattea.
Very much in the mould of the Southern Gothic writing school, Griffith concocts songs that paint entire cinematic landscapes.
On Lone Star State of Mind (1987) she blossoms on her first major label release, abetted by the safe pair of country hands known as Tony Brown. Commercial yet erudite the material here is first rate. The title track and Julie Gold’s ‘From a Distance’ define her in this period ,but we love ‘Ford Econoline’ and ‘Trouble in the Fields’ every bit as much.
Now in a position to up her game significantly, Griffith has become a country star and Little Love Affairs (1988), helmed by Brown again, evokes her Texan upbringing with such clarity that ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ and ‘Gulf Coast Highway’ function as glorious travelogues for the internal mind.
One Fair Summer Evening is another five star affair of the heart and soul; a live album recorded at Anderson Fair, Houston, Texas in August 1988 and released in short order. Mostly concentrating on her previous studio sets, she still finds space for new songs, ‘Deadwood, South Dakota’ and ‘I Would Bring you Ireland’ (she’s also a Celtic fanatic) being particularly sweet to the taste. Storms (1988) has a poppier edge to it but she is still collaborating with the gifted pianist James Hooker, the great storyteller Eric Taylor and her stellar Orchestra. Glyn Johns produced this beauty and it has a sonic gloss that makes it sound as good today as it did all those years ago. Further kudos came Nanci’s way with Late Night Grande Hotel (1991) with production from Rod Argent and Peter Van Hooke and vocal assists from Tanita Tikaram and Phil Everly. The tracks ‘One Blade Shy of a Sharp Edge’ and ‘Fields of Summer’ indicate a talent that is truly ripened and matured. Her narratives are bang on the money. To that extent Griffith has won acclaim from her peers and the great elders. Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and John Prine all consider her a true and pure songwriter and we guess they know what they’re talking about!
In recent years Nanci has often turned to the great songbooks and covered Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Paxton and Townes Van Zandt with a sure touch and a vocal calm. She has also teamed up with more modernist musicians such as R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and U2’s Adam Clayton while never losing sight of the country gold that she mines on a regular basis. In fact Country Gold (1997) is a compilation we offer that cherry-picks some of her best-loved songs.To round out that scene. we also have The MCA Years: A Retrospective (18 fantastic selections from the first five MCA albums) also The Best of Nanci Griffith that finds space for the unreleased ‘Tumble and Fall’ and the live from the Royal Albert Hall gem, ‘The Road to Aberdeen’, written when her love affair with the British Isles was taking off (the feeling being mutual). The anthology From a Distance: The Very Best of Nanci Griffith is another success and The Complete MCA Studio Recordings is over two and a half hours of Nanci magic that collates 46 tracks onto a 2-CD set and includes all her classics plus covers on Tom Waits’ ‘San Diego Serenade’, John Stewarts’s ‘Sweet Dreams Will Come’ and Harlan Howard’s ‘Never Mind’ for starters.
Always an artist with a contemporary flairI, but still one who keeps an eye on the past, Nanci Griffith manages to combine a nostalgic American gaze with up to the minute technology. She offered a superb set of torch songs on Ruby’s Torch and used her muse to make political statements of considerable weight on the Loving Kind. Her latest disc, Intersection, was made in her Nashville home studio and shows every sign that she is, like all the truly great Americana and country folks, in this for the long haul. And are we glad about that. She is a true charmer.
Words: Max Bell
The Last of the True Believers is singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith's fourth album, and her last with the folk music-oriented Philo Records. The acclaim accorded her from her previous Once in a Very Blue Moon and the current album would gain her a contract with a major recording company after this album. Here, Griffith continues her turn toward a more country-oriented work than her first two albums, which were primarily folk-sounding. It also includes two songs which would later be hits for Kathy Mattea: "Love at the Five and Dime" from her 1986 album Walk the Way the Wind Blows, and "Goin' Gone", Mattea's first Number One, from 1987's Untasted Honey.
Storms is singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith's eighth album. In it she heads in a third musical direction, that of pop music. Griffith, whose background is primarily folk music, turned toward country music in her preceding four or five albums, and here, again, ventures into a little different style. Griffith enlisted the talents of noted rock music producer Glyn Johns for the musical style change.
Lone Star State of Mind is Nanci Griffith's fifth album, and her first with a major recording label. Griffith's music had seen a turn from her original folk music base into more commercially viable country music. For this album, she enlisted the talents of veteran country producer Tony Brown. The album garnered her first appearance on the Billboard Country charts, rising to #23 on the Country Albums chart, and is her highest charting album. The title track, "Lone Star State of Mind," became the first of only three Griffith singles to enter the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.
Little Love Affairs is Nanci Griffith's sixth album, and it had similar success to the preceding album, Lone Star State of Mind, on the Billboard charts. The album peaked at #27 on the Country Albums chart and one of its tracks entered into the Top 40 of theHot Country Singles chart: "I Knew Love" rose to #37. Two more tracks also charted: "Never Mind" at #58, and "Anyone Can Be Somebody's Fool" at #64.
One Fair Summer Evening is Nanci Griffith's seventh album, and her first one recorded in a live setting. It was recorded on August 19 and August 20, 1988 at Anderson Fair, a Houston, Texas club long known for featuring folk artists in an intimate setting. Griffith mainly performs live versions of songs from her previously released albums, but adds in a couple of new ones: "Deadwood, South Dakota" and "I Would Bring You Ireland". The album rose into the #43 position of the Billboard Country Albums chart.
Late Night Grande Hotel is an album by Nanci Griffith released in September 1991 on MCA. It was produced by Peter Van Hooke and Rod Argent, with a slightly more pop-orientated sound than previous albums. It also features vocal contributions fromPhil Everly and Tanita Tikaram.
Once in a Very Blue Moon is singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith's third album. The sounds have become a little more country and a little less folk than her previous albums. Her first two albums were backed sparsely with instrumentation, but starting with this album, the whole complement of country-styled instrumentalists can be heard. Noted country musicians performing on the album include banjo player Béla Fleck and champion fiddle player Mark O'Connor. The title song was covered by Dolly Parton, who included her version on her Real Love album in 1985.
The Complete MCA Studio Recordings is a compilation album spanning the five-year period, from 1987 to 1991, that Nanci Griffith spent with MCA Records. The 46-track, two-CD album features many of the songs from the four studio albums recorded on the label during these years: Lone Star State of Mind (1987), Little Love Affairs (1988), Storms (1989) and Late Night Grande Hotel (1991).