Patty Griffin "American Kid"

Patty Griffin offers a poignant memorial to her late father

Anyone who has lost a close relative, particularly a parent, knows the ambivalent emotions that can whirl in the heart after a loss. Relationships are complex, people are unpredictable, even unknowable, but that fact doesn’t lessen the emotional connection between individuals and the deep sense of emptiness that accompanies such a life changing event. Patty Griffin’s American Kid was written during the period that marked her father’s decline and death. Always adept at capturing the bittersweet aspects of life, Griffin memorializes an ordinary man, recognizing that all lives are extraordinary in their own unassuming manner.  

 American Kid was recorded in Nashville with producer Craig Ross who produced Griffin’s 2004 release Impossible Dream. Griffin chose Cody and Luther Dickinson, aka, The North Mississippi All-Stars, to back her. They, too, lost their father in the same year (2009) that Griffin lost hers. The recording took place in the Zebra Ranch Studios, created by Jim Dickinson. If ever a recording was haunted it is this one. The Dickinson brothers’ gritty roots-based playing is mellowed out by Ross’ ethereal production.

 A running theme through the album is Griffin’s attempt to ferret out her father’s secret world, both the literal and emotional one. Again and again the idea that one is never really known by the world surfaces in Griffin’s lyrics. “Faithful Son” describes a man who does the right things as a dutiful father, husband, son, and man, but fears that even God may have overlooked him. The depth of loneliness goes deep, including the lack of self –recognition as on “Not a Bad Man.” “I bet you see a stranger/when you look at me/when I look in the mirror/I know that’s what I see.” Griffin continues to examine that wound on “That Kind of Lonely,” and “Wild Old Dog.”

 Griffin imagines her father’s hidden dreams on “Irish Boy,” as he reminisces on his youthful aspirations. “Get Ready Marie” is a randy waltz about her parent’s courtship. She also pays homage to them on “Mon & Dad’s Waltz. She changes the pace on the album’s one true rocker “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida.” But Griffin is at her best when she sings directly to her father. She opens and closes the album with songs that are farewells. “Go Wherever You Wanna Go” is that releasing statement that one offers to the dying. The closer, “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone” acknowledges that, no matter the struggles in the relationship, the loss will mark the survivor forever.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)