PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Nanci Griffith: The Complete MCA Studio Recordings

Andrew Gilstrap

Nanci Griffith

The Complete MCA Studio Recordings

Label: MCA
US Release Date: 2003-06-17
UK Release Date: 2003-07-14
Amazon
iTunes

Nanci Griffith wasn't fresh off of the bus when she recorded five albums for MCA -- she already had four records and a Grammy nomination to her credit. MCA, though, is arguably where she blossomed (even if sales didn't keep pace), and it's hard to think of Nanci Griffith without humming more than a few of the songs she recorded between 1987 and 1991.

The Complete MCA Studio Recordings takes four of Griffith's MCA records (excluding the live One Fair Summer Evening) and crams them onto two CDs. Not only does this free up the valuable space that those four CDs were already taking up on my shelves, but it also makes more apparent the stylistic growth she experienced during those years. In a lot of ways, Griffith's strengths were fully-formed when she recorded 1987's Lone Star State of Mind: the alternately breezy and commanding voice, the keen eye for detail, and her ability to craft gentle vignettes that make you feel like you're thumbing through an old photo album as sepia-tinted backstories play out in your head.

When Griffith signed with MCA, it was at a time when a few left-of-center acts like Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle were being cautiously introduced to Nashville (a body as quick as any to reject anything smacking of radicalism -- strange, then, how conventional Griffith, Earle, and Lovett all seem today). Befitting that environment, Griffith recorded Lone Star State of Mind and its 1988 followup Little Love Affairs with a crack Nashville band that even included Bela Fleck on banjo. Consequently, those two records contain your standard country sound -- but even then, Griffith was pushing the boundaries of her songwriting style. Literate from the start, Griffith created some of her most enduring classics in songs like "Love Wore a Halo (Back Before the War)", "Gulf Coast Highway", "Ford Econoline", "Little Love Affairs", and "I Wish It Would Rain".

For all the critical accolades, however, Griffith's sales left something to be desired. Unsure what to do with her, MCA shifted her from its Nashville division to its Pop division. Although Griffith's work maintained the bold production that distinguished it from her earlier work on Philo, the difference in approach is immediately apparent on 1989's Storms. The pedal steel, banjo, and other country implements are largely replaced by keyboards -- some of which naturally feel dated today. Also more noticeable is a strong piano presence, of the style that Bruce Hornsby was making popular at the time. As for the songs? Griffith standards like "I Don't Want to Talk About Love", "Drive-In Movies and Dashboard Lights", "It's a Hard Life Wherever You Go", and "Listen to the Radio" were all given birth on Storms.

By this time, with a solid fanbase seemingly cemented, Griffith still wasn't attaining the sales that MCA was looking for. 1991's brilliant Late Night Grande Hotel made things even worse. Featuring full-bodied orchestration and more attention to pop styles, the album alienated many of Griffith's die-hard fans. While not as heavy on instant classics -- although "It's Just Another Morning Here" and her cover of Tom Waits' "San Diego Serenade" belong on any reputable best-of -- Late Night Grande Hotel holds up extremely well these days as a cohesive piece, no less of a success than her previous efforts.

At this point though, with Griffith's sales seeming to grow in an inverse relationship to her artistic growth, she parted ways with MCA and went on to form a beneficial relationship with Elektra, and to form the relaxed, mature style that we enjoy today. The albums Griffith recorded for MCA have never really been in danger of being lost or forgotten -- they're just too good. Griffith might not have gotten the rewards she deserved at the time, but her position as a legend and not-so-elder-stateswoman in the singer/songwriter field are indisputable on the basis of these albums. Even without the three bonus tracks previously unavailable in the U.S. -- "Tumble and Fall", "Wooden Heart", and "Stand Your Ground" -- this is a definitive collection that any fan of Griffith (who doesn't already own all of the originals) should pick up.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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