It just seems like the time of year and weather are cooperating enough for me to really get into the new releases by Patty Griffin and Lucinda Williams. That's not to say that I'm feeling remorse or melancholy, at least no more than usual. But there's a lot of time between work and other things for me to give these records multiple plays. These are two of America's best songwriters, regardless of gender.
Williams' "West" follows the same template since her breakthrough with "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" nearly ten years ago (Jesus! Has it been that long?) The production is sparse and the music is lean and muscular, which lends itself to the immediacy of Williams' songs, following the pattern established by "Car Wheels'" follow-up, "Essence." Since the 2004 release of "World Without Tears", Williams has endured the death of her mother and the breakup of a relationship (the latter seems to be a running theme throughout her albums). And though interviews indicate she's completing the healing process, the two events inform the lyrics throughout the album. With songs like "Come On!" and "Unsuffer Me", Williams gives Emmylou Harris a run for her money as the Queen of Remorse.
Meanwhile, Griffin achieves her own artistic breakthrough with "Children Running Through", which is even more solid track-by-track to 2004's "Impossible Dream." Known more as a master songwriter than a singer (the Dixie Chicks owe a large debt of their success to Griffin's songs) she's steadily become more comfortable with her voice over the years, combining soulful gospel with Bruce Springsteen's more countryesque leanings into a style that's all her own. Griffin's voice is front and center on "Children Running Through", from the opening torch of "You'll Remember", to the Stax/Muscle Shoals send-up "Stay on the Ride", to the gospel touches on "Heavenly Day" and "Up From the Mountain (MLK Song)", a song given a second authoritative take by Solomon Burke on his "Nashville" album. "Children Running Through" cements Griffin's arrival as a performer of serious merit. She won't be known as just a songwriter anymore.