Patty Griffin in Boston
House of Blues
Fifty years from now, will they still write songs this achingly beautiful. That’s the thought that comes to mind when listening to Patty Griffin perform songs from her latest album, American Kid, at a stop at Boston’s House of Blues recently. American Kid is steeped in a sepia-toned past, right down to its cover art, and is one of the best pure American folk albums since Emmylou Harris’ Red Dirt Girl, which came out more than a dozen years ago (and featured an appearance by Griffin).
Griffin and her three-man backing band played nearly all the tracks from the new album over the course of an 18-song set in Boston. After opening with an older number, “Carry Me” off of 1998’s Flaming Red, she launched into “Ohio,” the first single off American Kid and one of the album’s more gorgeous tracks.
The album was heavily influenced by Griffin’s experience caring for her dying father, Lawrence Joseph Griffin, who was born in Boston’s South End, only miles from the House of Blues stage on which his daughter was now performing. Some of its songs – “Irish Boy,” “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida,” “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone” – speak directly to her father’s life, while others – “Faithful Son,” “That Kind of Lonely” – are clearly colored by the same notions of family, memory and mortality. “I was getting ready to lose him and I didn’t know what to do,” Griffin said of her father. “So I just wrote songs.”
She prefaced one of these songs by saying, “Because I’m a folk singer, I’m going to have to play you a song about my grandparents. Try to stay in your seats!” She said the song, “Get Ready Marie,” was inspired by a photograph she saw of her grandparents on their wedding day – her grandfather rarin’ to get going with the wedding night, and her grandmother looking decidedly less enthused. “I always thought that picture had a million stories in it,” she remarked.
At another point in the show, Griffin stumbled not once but twice during the lead-in to the song “Rain,” and seemed inclined to bail on the tune altogether. But the crowd simply would not let her fail, and by force of collective will brought forth a stunning version of the song from Griffin – if anything, made better by the initial falter.
Griffin closed the sublime evening with a pair of encores: “Up To The Mountain” and “Go Wherever You Wanna Go,” the latter of which is clearly a hymn to her late father:
“You don’t ever have to pay the bills no more
Break a sweat or walk a worried floor now
Working like a dog ain’t what you’re for now
You don’t ever have to pay the bills no more
You can go wherever you wanna go
You can go wherever you wanna go"