Patty Griffin learns how to live on Flaming Red



By Steve Newton

For her first album, 1996’s Living With Ghosts, Patty Griffin appeared alone, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar. On her new CD, Flaming Red, the 34-year-old singer-songwriter from Maine is in the company of more than a dozen musicians, including such stellar types as drum great Kenny Aronoff. The in-demand Aronoff—who is currently slamming skins on the Smashing Pumpkins tour—plays on 10 of the disc’s 13 tracks. Emmylou Harris also dropped in to deliver some background vocals.

“She is a fairly new friend of mine,” says Griffin from a Nashville hotel. “She came forward and was really supportive of my stuff, and wanted to meet me and tell me that. She’s so good, and she’s been doin’ this for so long, that to have support from someone like that means a lot.”

Griffin and Harris both appeared on Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair tour last year, which Griffin notes was particularly memorable for the performance by Tibetan vocalist Yungchen Lhamo. She didn’t mind checking out the ethereal headliner, either. “When you see her sing you go, ‘Oh yeah, McLachlan, she’s Scottish.’ It’s like this old Scottish fairy channelling through her.”

Griffin is part of the Lilith tour again this year, although, unfortunately for Vancouverites, she isn’t scheduled to take part in its local stop. But if you’re really quick, you can catch her on Thursday (July 16) at the Starfish Room, with local Nettwerk recording artist Tara MacLean opening up. Griffin’s got a full band with her this time, which she reports is a nice change from just her and a guitar.

“I’m really havin’ fun,” she says. “I sort of came to a place where I did the acoustic thing for so many years, and it’s really nice to have energy of others onstage to work off of. It opens up a whole new world, a lot to be explored.”

Griffin’s exploratory bent leads to much lyrical adventure on Flaming Red, whether she’s revealing the ironies of desire on “Wiggley Fingers” or exploding spiritual myths on “Mary”. Perhaps the most compelling track is “Tony”, a semifictional account of a homosexual schoolboy who escapes a life of gloom by committing suicide. Griffin makes no excuses for downhearted tunes like “Tony” and Flaming Red’s sombre “Christina”, which is based on the troubled life of millionairess Christina Onassis.

“I’m drawn to whatever I need to be drawn to to grow,” she relates. “That’s sort of how I grow up—I need to always try to learn how to live. And so I go where I need to go, and I think for a long time I’ve needed to go and think about pain and suffering for some reason. The first record is very much like that, but I think that shifted a little, and this record shares the stage with other things.”


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