Nanci Griffith has always existed just outside the mainstream of public recognition, performing music that isn’t quite country (even though she’s produced by Nashville legend Tony Brown), not really folk, although she counts Townes Van Zandt and Carolyn Hester as influences. No, Nanci Griffith music is hers, and hers alone. Even when her songs are performed by other artists, such as Suzy Bogguss’ take on “Outbound Plane”, Griffith’s version is the one that sticks, that resonates deeper in your soul.
This is due in large part to the absolute purity of her voice. Somehow sounding both powerful and like little girl like at the same time, on cuts such as “Once In a Very Blue Moon”, the effect can take your breath away. Even material that borders on saccharine, such as the oft-mauled “From a Distance” sounds great when she sings it. The music of Nanci Griffith sounds sincere, honest and rarely less than moving. Watching her a few years ago on a tribute to Townes Van Zandt, she sat sobbing as Steve Earle sang “Tecumseh Valley”. It’s that sort of heart that is reflected in all her music, and may account for her lack of mega-hits. Some people want music with a little distance and detachment to it, and she just doesn’t perform (or seemingly live) that way. For those of us who search out such personal artists, we love it.
This, or any collection, can only brush on a few highlights of a performer’s career. After 19 albums, Griffith has amassed a sizeable catalog of classic moments, and attempting to reduce it to an 11 song CD is cruel. Add to that the fact that only material from MCA is included (although “Blue Moon”, an early favorite from her Rounder Records days shows up in a live version), you whittle it down even more. But still, 11 cuts of Nanci Griffith beats none, and for those poor souls who haven’t yet experienced the combination of open-eyed realism and majestic quality of heart that she delivers, this is a good place to start.