Nanci Griffith,
Lone Star State of Mind
(MCA, 1987; Spectrum, 2009)

The recent reissue of Nanci Griffith's fifth album, Lone Star State of Mind, is cause for celebration, even for those of us not actually from the Lone Star State. A native of Austin, Griffith's album is more than just a pastiche of songs about the South; it's a cycle of love songs to strength and perseverance of the modern Everyman -- or Everywoman, as the case may be. The songs are peopled by characters as diverse and varied as the population of the Great State of Texas.

The title track, written by Fred Koller, Patrick Alger and Gene Levine, tells of love long faded and one lonely night when rekindling that love seems like a good idea. "It's a thousand miles or more from here to your front door. I'd be there tomorrow if I left today ... but here I sit alone in Denver sipping the California wine. And I've got all night to remember you. I'm in a Lone Star state of mind." An impressive array of musicians contributes to this catchy tune, including writer Patrick Alger on guitars, Bela Fleck on banjo and Russ Kunkel on percussion and drums. Griffith's poignantly wistful voice, however, carries the perfect emotional note, making "Lone Star State of Mind" one of the most memorable tunes on the album.

I heard Griffith's version of "From a Distance" long before Bette Midler recorded it in 1990, and as far as I'm concerned, Griffith's recording is far superior and remains my favorite of the two. The clarity of her crystalline voice and the simplicity of the orchestration allow the listener to focus on the lyrics rather than the sweeping strings and choirs of angel voices.

Griffith's talents as a songwriter should not go unnoted. Five tracks, including "Cold Hearts/Closed Minds," "Beacon Hill" and "Love in a Memory," were penned by Griffith, while "Trouble in the Fields" was written in conjunction with Rick West. Not content to take the easy way out, these songs feature a complex combination of vocal gymnastics and inventive lyrics that keep the listener engaged and often at the edge of his audio seat.

"There's a Light Beyond the Woods (Mary Margaret)," also written by Griffith, follows the lives of two friends from childhood exploration through adolescence loves: "Have you met my new boyfriend, Margaret? His name is John and he rides my bus to school and he holds my hand -- he's fourteen, he's my older man." The hopes and dreams of youth shrivel up to become the dreams that die as the reality of adulthood settles in: "The fantasies we planned, well, I live without them now." Griffith's voice aches with the pain of childhood lost.

The most joyous song on the album is also written by Griffith and tells of a failed marriage and woman's bid for freedom, via her "Ford Econoline." This bouncy, full-on bluegrass anthem is brought to life by Griffith's strong, demanding growl as she tells the story of a mad-dash for independence: "She drove west from Salt Lake City to the California coastline. She hit the San Diego Freeway doing 60 miles an hour. She had a husband on her bumper, she had five restless children; she was singing sweet as a mockingbird in that Ford Econoline." We know from that opening lyric that our heroine is going to be just fine; she's so determined succeed that failure is simply not an option.

And that is pretty much the way this album feels: it's the little album that could, an album so determined to deliver that it simply can't fail. Nanci Griffith delivers a first-class listening experience with Lone Star State of Mind.

review by
Belinda Christ

19 December 2009

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