Patty Griffin’s writing has always been a favorite of mine among new folk and country queens. She went straight for the heart on Flaming Red in 1998 with “Tony,” a piece about the struggles of a gay teen that is still as relevant today as it was 24 years ago. Her voice rings choral clear, but with an authentic twang that puts the lyrics right on the bull’s eye.
With Tape, she’s back with that minimalist tone prevalent in earlier albums, but with the added life experience of two decades, including a breast cancer diagnosis that temporarily sidelined her voice, but didn’t stomp her creativity.
As the title implies, Tape takes us back to the simplicity of songs intended to be heard in order. The opening track, “Get Lucky,” has that “demo” quality that the album promises on these previously unreleased tracks, the “I’m just gonna sit here on the porch and play one for ya” vibe. It’s hopeful. It’s coming from that place of knowing. She knows, and she’s telling you.
Speaking of luck, we get a slam dunk appearance by Robert Plant on “Don’t Mind.” This is a playful, bluesy duet that ranks right up there with the work Plant and Alison Krauss did on Raising Sand (and later, the roof). Griffin and Plant are a natural team on this one. Seasoned voices have the confidence to deliver a song softly. We know they are both capable of all the dynamics, including rock and roll volume, but they don’t need to prove it to anyone.
While it’s not getting the attention that the duet with Plant will, my pick on this record is “Little Yellow House.” With a classic country sound and pensive lyrics, this is a story that could just as easily be you or me as the writer. The decision to go or stay, and the consequences of both… The last lines are without even the pleasant distraction of accompaniment, to be sure we know how personal this is. The album wraps with a somber “Forever Shall Be,” a lament, a tribute, a wish for a return to someone or something. Grief and longing are expressed at once in this short track. There isn’t any need for her to elaborate. It might not be what we’d want Griffin to close a live show on, but for this album it is perfect.
If you pop an actual cassette in to listen, it will require a whir of the little wheels to get to the next track prematurely. How about just leaving it alone, regardless of format? You’ll want to travel this one all the way through. Straight to the heart.