Patty Griffin: American Kid

Patty Griffin's songs reveal multiple sides of a complicated, conflicted man.

Patty Griffin

American Kid

Label: New West
US Release Date: 2013-05-07
UK Release Date: 2013-05-13
Label website
Artist website
"Sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That's what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story."

-- "Spin" by Tim O'Brien

One of the themes of O'Brien's Vietnam "memoir"/short story collection The Things They Carried is that the book's events might not have actually happened, or happened exactly as they're written, but that this didn't violate the "truth" of the stories. A far cry from the self-deluding "truthiness" popularized by satirist Stephen Colbert, O'Brien's aim is to shine a light on the true essence of an experience, a life, or a death.

To some extent, this is what Patty Griffin accomplishes on American Kid. Griffin began writing the album shortly before her father's impending death in 2009. She then put the songs away while she toured with Robert Plant and released 2010's cover-dominated Downtown Church album. As she told Rolling Stone, "I didn't feel like singing anything about my life, at all, after he died."

Griffin's an extremely gifted songwriter, and it's yet another testament to her skill that American Kid blends true stories, imagined stories, and Griffin's own ruminations on God and loss without relying on the crutches of easy comforts or curses against the heavens. The album starts off with the gentle release of "Go Wherever You Wanna Go", in which Griffin imagines a world of ease and happiness, where "the time's wound all the way down". After that, though, there's the story of a man's life to tell, and "Please Don't Let Me Die in Florida" kicks that mission off in raucous fashion. Propelled by Luther and Cody Dickinson, the song goes from a birth where "dirty streets cried out for rain", on to war in the Pacific, through a job laying down blacktop where "those hills gave way just like a wedding gown", and ending up in old age. The ethereal "Ohio" (co-written with Plant, and one of three songs on which he offers understated support) imagines a meeting which death might prevent. The plaintive "Faithful Son" is a plea to God not to forget "Your quiet, dull and faithful son / Who's seen the loneliest of days / And fought the dirtiest of ways / With the man inside who would have run away / From the promises I made."

From the left-behind waiting of "Highway Song" to the young man's piss and vinegar of "Irish Boy" to the groom itching for his wedding night on "Get Ready Marie", Griffin reveals facet after facet of a complicated and conflicted man. Fittingly, American Kid is an unadorned record, focused on its purpose. Despite the presence of two North Mississippi Allstars in the Dickinson brothers, "Please Don't Let Me Die in Florida" is the only track that threatens to kick the doors off the hinges. American Kid successfully recaptures Griffin's acoustic roots in haunting and moving fashion.

In the end -- even though only Griffin knows what's real, what's made up, what's some combination of the two -- the listener comes away feeling like they have some measure of the man. Ironically, the album may best be summed up in her exceptional reading of Lefty Frizzell's "Mom and Dad's Waltz". In its sense of longing for something that's gone, the song anchors this album that acts as a goodbye, a eulogy, and a reconnection.







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.