Every now and then a CD comes along that's my new Favorite Thing. I play it at work, I play it at home, I make a tape for the car, I pack the CD around in my knapsack like a Berlitz guide book and the lyrics float around in my head like ghosts of a vivid dream. Patty Griffin's 1000 Kisses is that kind of CD.
From the first melancholy chords of the opening track, "Rain," it's clear that Griffin is of the Emmylou Harris/Gillian Welch/Nanci Griffith school. Not quite folk, pop, rock or country, she inhabits that wondrously subtle, twilight world of grange hall dances, Depression-era moxie and silk stockings-with-sensible shoes. But Griffin also knows her way around the contemporary music business. The Dixie Chicks named their last album Fly after the Griffin-penned song "Let Him Fly," and she's toured with not only the Chicks but also with Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams. Still, after recording five albums but only seeing three of them get released (Flaming Red and Living with Ghosts are the other two), it's not surprising that Griffin has decided to take her chances with a smaller label that offers more creative control.
While many of the songs on 1000 Kisses seem to suggest the roadside diners and swampy resignation of the deep South, Griffin hails from French-Canadian roots and grew up in western Maine. She moved to Florida and then to Boston, where she began to perform, but never really found her niche until she moved to Nashville in 1997.
Griffin's soft twang is nicely suited to such plaintive tunes as "Be Careful," "Nobody's Crying," and "Rain." Where another singer might not be able to pull off the right sound and tone, she manages to be both reflective and wry. "Stolen Car," originally a Bruce Springsteen song, is something altogether new here, and the Latin-flavored "Mil Besos" is a deliciously torchy number full of long looks and dancing-from-the-hip rhythms. The album is at its most organic on "Tomorrow Night," which ends with a tiny flurry of applause from Griffin's small band, but it's at its best on "Long Ride Home." Emmylou Harris's backup vocals offer hauntingly sweet harmonies, and the melody is catchier than a hair treatment jingle. Still, it's the lyrics -- a woman thinking the course of her long marriage -- that linger long after the notes have slipped away.