Sue Wilson looks at the appeal of country crossover star Nanci
Even though many of the songs on her last album described the lonely rigours of life on tour; even though when she was last here, in December, she talked of her eagerness to get back home to Nashville and stay in one place for a while; even though, at that Glasgow gig, one of her front teeth dropped out and had to be Superglued back in place just before she came on stage — a nasty shock for any singcr— Nanci Griffith is back. Perhaps it’s because of the way Scotland seems to have taken her to its heart in much the same way as Ireland has, or maybe it’s just her professed love of performing live; whatever the reason, her fans can
only be grateful.
One of those hard-to-bracket, country-folk, singer-songwriters, Griffith is the kind of artist who gladdens the hearts of old hippies and lovers of ‘real’ music alike. A readily self-confessed 60$ liberal, her appeal and her considerable success rest on her consummate songwriting skill, matched by a voice of such sweetness and power that it melts the hearts of hardened music hacks, sending them into paroxysms of purple prose: ‘A superbly sophisticated writer. . . songs that can I make you break down and cry‘ (NME); ‘Her fabulous voice can create the illusion of time standing still’ (Sounds); ‘As close to perfection as I would dare to imagine‘ (Melody Maker).
While there is undoubtedly a strong country element in her music, and while she acknowledges I
a major debt to singers like Loretta Lynn and Carole King, Griffith firmly resisted being filed under the ‘New Country’ tag which boosted the careers of musicians like Lyle Lovett and Randy Travis a few years back. ‘It just wasn‘t a label that fitted me very well,’ she says. ‘As a songwriter l have so many diverse inﬂuences, I‘ve had songs recorded by so many different types of artist that I just didn’t feel comfortable with it, even though in the States people are always desperate to
She describes her inﬂuences as being ‘left-field, country-folk type ofwriters‘, the likes ofJohn Stewart, Guy Clark and Tom Waits, and seems more than happy to occupy a similar position herself. ‘I don‘t actually listen to much contemporary country music.‘ she says. ‘And I’ve never really been accepted by the country establishment in the US.’ You don’t get the impression that this bothers her overmuch. ‘All my records are still available,‘ she points out. “I know of people who had a hit two years ago whose
albums have disappeared; I’ve established
Griffith‘s songs succeed in being moving but not corny, sentimental but not slushy. their heartstring-tugging quality backed up by a lyrical toughness and vocal depth which reward repeated listening. It’s a combination which seems to arise fairly directly from the contrasts and contradictions in Griffith herself. Now in her late 305, the ex-kindergarten teacher can still look like a youngish, wide-eyed twenty-year-old; in concert, her sometimes over-earnest paeans of praise to her heroes and heroines are balanced by shrewd cracks about the current state of US politics. When you think about it, it must take considerable determination, even cussedness, to remain an idealist after nine albums and the best part of a decade on the road, not to mention surviving an earlier broken marriage to a heroin-addicted Vietnam vet. The heartfelt belief in things like love and human nature which comes through in Griffith’s songs is unmistakably hard-won, often tempered with a knowing irony. (‘Do you miss me when I’m far away?/Do you save me for your rainy days?/ls my picture on the mantle. . . or isit in the fire?’).
The worldliness is also apparent in Griffith’s penchant for the odd sharp comment on the minefield of male-female relations, such as ‘One Blade Shy Of A Sharp Edge’ on her most recent album, Late Night Grande Hotel, a sharp rejoinder to a Republican would-be charmer coming-on to her from his car (‘I‘m a full grown woman and you‘re lookin‘ for girls’). Social issues get a look-in, too, as in ‘Down’n’Outer’, a song about the homeless which she wrote after seeing people living on the street when she was touring the US East Coast, an experience that also prompted her to have the catered food from backstage taken to a homeless shelter after each show. Little wonder that her record label, MCA, plugged her as their ‘integrity artist‘ for a while, and while she cringes at the label, it‘s that old-fashioned quality which has won her so many fans.
Nanci Grifﬁth plays Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Wed 29 and Thurs 30.
Coming south from Skye, we slowly drove past two John O'Groats-to- Land’s End sponsored walkers who towered over the car. They were, unbelievably, attempting the whole ioumey on stilts. Here’s hoping they meet up in Glasgow next week with the Moko Jumbles, spiritual cousins from ‘ St Thomas in the Virgin Islands, who dress in outrageous flamboyant costume and perform energetic terpslchorean feats, again on stilts. The Caribbean Music Village moves from London and Berlin to Glasgow’s
I, I” VII ~ 47
Fair at the Briggait, Wed 22-Sun 26, and, apart from the Jumbles, features musicians, singers, percussionists and
dancers, revealing an incredibly rich cultural diversity at the heart of the Americas.
Trinidad and Tobago are represented by the national instrument-the steelpan, in the hands of the Skifer Bunch Steel Band, regular winners of the National Championship. Shortpants is the name of their most famous calypso singer, a spectacularly inventive improviser and spiky social commentator, and the Tassa Drummers incorporate a vigorous drum style from India, brought in with indentured workers from the subcontinent, and accompanied by a supple female ‘chutney dancer’, who specialises in raising the temperature.
The Garifuna from Belize are descendants of the intermarriages of
escaped African slaves and Amerindians, and their strongly percussive, ritualistic music contrasts with Jamaica’s Lititz Mento band which with violin, banjo and guitar features leading Caribbean jazz saxophonist Cedric ’im' Brooks.
The beguine and merengue from the francophone Antilles are part of the repertoire of the eight-piece dance band La Renaissance de St Anne from Guadeloupe, and there are more groups from Guadeloupe, Venezuela and Cuba in a spectacular and exotic holiday guest list. See Folk/World listings for full details, but if possible get along to the final night Caribbean Ceilidh and, as an English friend of mine would say, ‘give them some of that Scotch Ialdy'. (Norman Chalmers)
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