On a cold winter New York City night in 2007, Patty Griffin performed songs from her new album.
The opening of Patty Griffin’s Live at The Artists Den is startling. In her cover of Sam Cooke’s “Get Yourself Another Fool”, Griffin ends repeating the title lyric, reinterpreting the melody in each line, until softly and beautifully concluding the song. The reinterpretations alone are inspiring. Then, Griffin opens her speaking voice to say thank you, and you get a moment's realization that this woman, with a voice that can make buildings shake, is soft-spoken and unassuming. Griffin has established herself as one of the most beautiful and important voices of her time, and her performance in Brooklyn that night provides a rare opportunity to hear the songs from her 2007 record Children Running Through live. That release landed on a host of critics' year-end lists, but this performance is elevated by the excitement of a crowd hearing songs the very day Children Running Through made its way to the stores.
The Artists Den is quite a spectacle. The Ovation TV show takes musicians to interesting and often iconic locations to perform in front of what appears to be a mostly wine and cheese crowd. The correct selection of setting can elevate even the most pedestrian performance to an intriguing one. In this case, however, the room is not the star. Griffin's show at the Angel Orensanz Center for the Arts on February 6, 2007 was an intimate, invitation-only affair. Griffin’s then-new songs are front and center. Her storytelling feels more Southern than her Maine upbringing might suggest, but then storytelling really knows no region, and Griffin proves it. From her Cooke cover she moves on to her own composition “Stay on The Ride”, the bluesiest song of the set. “Trapeze” is a beautiful song drawn from her visit to the circus as a child in the Northeast.
The riskiest moment of the set is her cover of the French classic “J’irai La Voir Un Jour”. If there was to be a moment where her vocals could not carry the set, this would be it, but she delivers an astonishing version. Part of Griffin's allure and charm is how easily she moves in and out of genres and sounds. More versatile than many of her peers, she can sing a soul cover, a French ballad, and a country-tinged narrative in a single set without any of it feeling forced or out of place.
If there is any flaw on this collection, it would be that it tends to overstay its welcome. While the length is perfect for playing in the background, an active listener may find themselves searching for a bit more pick-me-up by the time she reaches “Standing”. Fortunately it picks back up, delivering on its promise, before wrapping up with “Top of the World”.
Patty Griffin’s Live at The Artists Den CD release (the set was also released on DVD) is a must-hear for fans, but it also serves as an infectious introduction to this unique songwriter and vocal performer. Often lumped in with the Lilith Fair crowd or compared to vocalists like Neko Case, Griffin is a singular and spectacular musician. This particular collection of songs and performance is pitch-perfect.