There is a song named “River” on Patty Griffin’s latest, self-titled album, which I’d played countless times since its March release. But it wasn’t until Saturday night, when the 55-year-old singer-songwriter, making her first Dallas appearance in a little over a year, stood before a sold-out Granada Theater, that I really heard it.
Arriving near the end of her 105-minute set, during which she was backed by guitarist David Pulkingham (a longtime collaborator) and multi-instrumentalist Conrad Choucroun, the lyrics tumbled forth, born aloft on Griffin’s quicksilver alto: “She’s been left for dead a million times/Keeps coming home, arms open wide/Ever-changing and undefined/She’s a river.”
The tune is, as is often the case with the Austin-based Grammy winner’s work, exquisite in its fine-grained detail and presentation. And although Griffin seems to be singing about feminine un-knowability, those lines also snapped into focus as a startlingly apt characterization of her art.
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Griffin has forged a career as a phenomenally gifted musician, whose music has occasionally bubbled up into the view of the mainstream — Kelly Clarkson, among others, has done her part to tout Griffin’s work to the wider world — but she’s often cited as more of an influence than someone lodged in heavy rotation.
Those enthusiastically gathered inside the Granada on Saturday were not the least bit bothered by such things, coming unglued with happiness as she appeared onstage.
The night’s set list found her working through much of Patty Griffin, touching on highlights like “Had a Good Reason,” “What Now,” “Luminous Places” and “Where I Come From,” as well as sprinkling in cuts from further back — “Long Ride Home” from 2002’s 1000 Kisses or “When It Don’t Come Easy” from 2004’s Impossible Dream.
Griffin, often armed with an acoustic guitar, also fashioned lovingly detailed preambles to most tunes, holding forth on all manner of subjects, ranging from anecdotes about losing herself down a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins YouTube rabbit hole to her European touring regimen (involving loads of coffee and a well-timed Ambien) to her pleasure upon returning to her home state of the past two decades.
While reams upon reams have been written about the wonder of Griffin’s singular voice, it’s nigh impossible to not devote at least a few sentences to marveling anew at its beauty. Warm and inviting, tangled up between bluesy soulfulness, righteous testifying and earthy richness, capable of leaping and floating, her porcelain alto bears a small, hairline crack running its length and always breaking in the right places, intoxicating in its directness and capable of inducing a lump in the throat or a tear in the eye.
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Onward Griffin’s voice flowed, weaving in between her bandmates, who made enough music for at least another two or three musicians, darting from song to song until, at last, it was time to say farewell.
“It’s not like this everywhere,” Griffin observed, as applause subsided. “I think of Texas as a music state — it’s great to be almost home.”
Again, perhaps without intending to do so, Patty Griffin had taken the measure of the deeply satisfying night and saw it for what it was. Or, to put it another way, she’s been left for dead a million times, but she keeps coming home, ever-changing and undefined.