With a career that began in the mid-90s Patty Griffin's music had many settings from stripped back acoustic to full on rock. For her 7th studio album Griffin has gathered a team of players par excellence to render these songs straight and true. She has co-produced the album with Craig Ross and they utilise the players to great effect. But with the likes of Cody and Luther Dickinson, Doug Lancio, Byron House and Ross himself involved you are assured that the playing is fully in tune with the songs and with their singer. Griffin has rarely sounded better on a set of songs that return to people, places and to the past. The album is dedicated to her father Lawrence Griffin and is in his honour.
This seems like a natural step after her sojourn in Band of Joy with Robert Plant. The latter appears in a supportive role on three songs. Supportive as the central focus here is Griffin's expressive and emotive voice. Her version of Lefty Frizzell's of Mom & Dad's Waltz is delivered with true passion and serves as a pivotal link to a past and a future. The remainder of the songs are written by Griffin and illustrate a writer who, over time, has found a way to concisely used language to illuminate and be introspective.
Two of the songs take a distinct but largely understated sense of Irishness. Irish Boy and Get Ready Marie, the latter has a sly humour in its closing lines, which are taken from the male perspective, "… I had a good hunch, when she kissed me a bunch, she could do other things like a rabbit." The cover and lyric book features a lot of pictures of young solders and their sense of being and displacement are echoed in songs like Gonna Miss You When Your Gone. Not wanting to be removed from your place of upbringing at life's end is the theme of Don't Let Me Die In Florida. A request that her father made that was honoured at his passing.
Not that the album is in any way depressive. The opposite in fact. American Kid is Americana at its best and arguably the finest album that Griffin has so far released. It is one that will be returned to often and will no doubt be as rewarding on future plays as it is now. It marks Patty Griffin as a mature, mindful and mischievous presence who stands at the peak of her powers alongside a handful of very talented artists who have grown gracefully and for that we must show our gratitude in a world that is increasingly superficial.
Review by Stephen Rapid