Category Archives: Nanci Griffith

Today’s Top 5: Albums MIA From NPR’s “Made by Women” List

There are far more important concerns than NPR’s 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women list. This, we know. Yet, while breezing through it Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help but to (silently) scream.

First and foremost: Albums from last year are on it. Seriously?! Maybe it’s me, but placing any recently released album on a “best of all time” list is short-sighted; we don’t know whether it will, as most great albums do, grow stronger through the years or fall from favor. The former is (obviously) the case for Joni Mitchell’s Blue (from 1971), the top pick, and Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (from 1967), No. 4 (which really should have been No. 2). They speak universal truths of the human condition that are applicable to every generation and age; i.e., they both reflect and transcend their time.

That’s one reason why my Essentials series has a strict “at least five years old” policy. “Classic” status only kicks in if you continually return to an album – and not just for nostalgia’s sake – time and again through the years.

Another reason for my (silent) scream: The exclusion of many great and influential albums at the expense of…Britney Spears?! The Spice Girls?! Isn’t that a bit like including David Cassidy and the Osmond Brothers on an all-male list? I also have serious doubts about any list that ranks Hole higher than Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde. They kicked down the door for Courtney Love (and all other women rockers who followed them, for that matter). I agree that the debuts of Tracy Chapman and the Indigo Girls should be included, but 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe and Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing set the stage for them. And Vega’s 99.9° deserves mention, too, as does Madonna’s True Blue.

But, of course, that’s part and parcel with these sorts of lists. I’ve never seen one that I agree with – from Rolling Stone‘s to Entertainment Weekly‘s to Mojo‘s. They’re generally the creation of a small band of voters who share the same basic dispositions. I.e., they’re good for starting arguments, little else.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Albums MIA From NPR’s “Made by Women” List. (Where they fall is anyone’s guess… so I’m placing them in chronological order.) And, yes – I could well have called this Top 5 “My Regulars.” I’ve featured all of them many times.

1) Lone Justice – Lone Justice (1985). Selected song: “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling).” I’ve written about this album, and spotlighted this song, many times before, of course, including in my first Essentials entry. It’s a genre-shattering, epoch-changing album that set the stage for the alt.country boom a decade later.

2) 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe (1987). Selected song: “Hey Jack Kerouac.” A folk-rock band from upstate New York, the Maniacs were (and remain) a wondrous group of eccentrics with a serious knack for crafting cool and catchy tunes. Who else could have come up with this swinging ode to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and the beats? Their success paved the way for other late-‘80s (and beyond) folk-flavored singers and bands, from Tracy Chapman to the Indigo Girls to Innocence Mission.

3) Blake Babies – Sunburn (1990). Selected song: “Sanctify.” You want punk? You want spunk? You want an album that, whether anyone heard it or not, helped kick off the ‘90s wave of women-led rock bands? That could be said to be a true alt.college-rock album? That sounds like it was recorded yesterday? Then pick up this classic from Juliana Hatfield & Co. (And be sure to get Earwig, too). This song brings a “heavy metal rain” upon one’s head…

4) Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo (2004). Selected song: “Tourist.” On her own, Juliana has released a slew of stupendous albums, from Hey Babe (1992) to Pussycat (2017) – but I’m limiting myself to this one (and the Blake Babies) because, well, it’s great – her second to win my esteemed Album of the Year, in fact. Just as a side note: I clearly remember when and where I first heard it – on the day of its release in my Dodge Neon while on my way to pick up my wife.

5) Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2010). Selected song: “On My Way Home.” I’ve written (too many times) about this album before, most recently in my Essentials series. At once retro and modern, it went platinum twice-over in the U.K. and topped the iTunes charts in the States; and it’s influenced other singers in the U.K. to follow the same stylistic path.

And two (non-chronological) bonuses:

6) Rosanne Cash – Interiors (1990). Selected song: “What We Really Want.” Rosanne Cash shed the country label with this, her seventh album, which owes a heavy debt to Joni Mitchell and the other confessional singer-songwriters of the early ‘70s. It’s stark and powerful, and a glimpse of the internal demons haunting her at the timel.

7) Nanci Griffith – Other Voices, Other Rooms (1993). Selected song: “Speed at the Sound of Loneliness.” In the early 1990s, after a string of successful albums, Nanci celebrated her influences on the sublime Other Voices album; and won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album as a result.

Today’s Top 5: Love, Peace & More

Some days, it seems, the highway of life crawls to a stop due to an ill-placed on- and off-ramp, a la the stretch of Pennsylvania turnpike between the suburban-Philadelphia enclaves of Willow Grove and Fort Washington. For those unfamiliar with that portion of the toll road, the powers-that-be installed an EasyPass-only exit-entrance about halfway between the two stops, which are only four or five miles apart, years ago. The idea, I imagine, was to reduce congestion. The result for those who get on at or before Willow Grove, however, has been quite the opposite thanks to two or three streams of cars now merging into traffic within a few miles.

In fact, that short stretch of highway usually takes half my commute. On a good day, I travel two or three miles in 20 minutes, and then the next 15 (or so) more miles in about the same amount of time. But that madness is routine madness, the kind of thing I and every other commuter has come to expect and begrudgingly accept.

But the madness that happened outside of Manchester Arena on Monday night is of another, horrific dimension. Ariana Grande’s fanbase is, I imagine, mostly teens and preteens; and I’d wager that, for many, the show was their first concert. The lights dimmed, the band kicked in and then Ariana appeared to applause, screams and shouts, and for the next hour and half (give or take) she commanded and directed the hearts and souls of everyone in attendance. I can say that without knowing much about her or her music, actually; anyone who’s been to more than a few shows knows the basic outline. And by night’s end, the 20,000+ fans were undoubtedly happy, content and ecstatic – stoned, in a sense, though not from drugs or drink but the experience.

A fan is a fan is a fan.

The idea that such a venue was a target for attack? It scorches the soul.

While driving home tonight, I listened to the CBS Evening News; KYW-1060AM, Philly’s all-news station, simulcasts it. What struck me was the night’s final report, about the response in Manchester, how everyone of every faith and color came together. The story spotlighted a Pakistani-Muslim cabbie who ferried 20+ young concert-goers wherever they wanted/needed to go at no charge. His own daughter had thought of attending the show, he said, but decided against it due to its proximity to school exams. That response, the outpouring of love and affection, is why those who hate will never win. 

With all of that in mind, here’s today’s Top 5: Love, Peace & More. (One note: I’d hoped to start with the obvious, the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” but it’s not on YouTube.)

1) Bobby Darin – “Simple Song of Freedom”

2) Rumer – “What the World Needs Now Is Love”

3) Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – “All I Really Want to Do”

4) Paul Weller – “Going Places”

5) Sandy Denny – “Full Moon”

And two bonuses…

6) Nanci Griffith – “From a Distance”

7) 10,000 Maniacs – “Peace Train”

Of Concerts Past: Nanci Griffith – One Fair Autumn Evening

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Oct. 25, 1989: Rows of folding metal chairs lined the floor of the West Philly concert venue this Wednesday night, a fair autumn evening if ever there was one – after a high of 77, temperatures plummeted into the 40s overnight. Two weeks before, we’d caught Lenny Kravitz’s Philadelphia debut at this same club; and a week later we’d see Syd Straw (with Dave Alvin on guitar) open for Camper Van Beethoven. For those concerts, we were situated on one of the raised sides, where tables and spotty service could sometimes be had. Tonight, however, we were down in the valley (so to speak) – and in the front row.

The headliner: Texas-bred singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith.

James McMurtry, then known primarily as the son of Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry, opened with a solid set drawn from his stellar debut, Too Long in the Wasteland, which was one of my favorite albums that year. He was backed by a crack band; I remember the drummer pounded those skins like his life depended on it.

nanci_stormsAt the time, Nanci Griffith was riding high – and winning a smattering of new fans – thanks to her sublime Storms album, which embraced a slightly sleeker pop sound than her previous country-folk works. Produced by Glyn Johns, it featured guest turns from Phil Everly, Bernie Leadon and Albert Lee and such songs as “Listen to the Radio,” “If Wishes Were Changes,” “Drive-In Movies and Dashboard Lights,” the title track and “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go.” To my ears (then and now), Storms is a stone-cold classic.

Although I already liked her music, I’d never seen her live, so I was psyched; and her 90-minute set didn’t disappoint. I believe she opened with the charming “Love at the Five and Dime,” complete with the sweet story that leads into it…

…but I could be wrong. The night’s songs are something of a jumble. I remember she played a wondrous rendition of “If Wishes Were Changes,” one of my favorite songs by her…

…and “There’s a Light Beyond These Words (Mary Margaret).”

“Listen to the Radio,” complete with a wonderful run on the keys by James Hooker, was another highlight.

And, of course, “It’s a Hard Life,” a song I’ve probably heard her sing dozens of times in the years since.

Okay, so dozens is a tad hyperbolic, but in the decades since that autumn evening, Diane and I have seen Nanci more times than either of us can count – basically, whenever she’s played the Philadelphia area. We’ve seen her at the Chestnut Cabaret, Penn’s Landing, TLA, Keswick, Tower Theater, World Cafe Live, even the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Del., where she was accompanied by the Crickets (as in, Buddy Holly’s Crickets).

Anyway, here’s the Philadelphia Inquirer’s review of the same concert: Cogitation, Country-style, at the Chestnut.