Minstrel Song by Grace Griffith
CD Released by Blix Street Records
Grace Griffith has long shown a knack for selecting the best in contemporary and traditional folk and Celtic music and a voice to bring out the subtly powerful emotions behind those songs. Her new MINSTREL SONG, from Los Angeles-based Blix Street Records, marries those two strengths in an ambitious song cycle that celebrates the enduring eloquence and energy of both the songs and the singers who, through the centuries, have revealed the passion, warmth and vitality of the music.
Taking its lead from the Graham Pratt tune "The Minstrel," the album - some four years in conception and completion - honors "the role that singers have played in society throughout time," according to Griffith. Whether it's soothing troubled souls, rousing political or social consciousness or simply providing entertainment, MINSTREL SONG acknowledges that music and its performers have always had a powerful impact on our lives. And the album does so with no small impact of its own. Griffith's pleasingly silky voice - drawing from inspirations like Judy Collins, Sandy Denny and the English vocalist Polly Bolton - glides over ten perfectly-chosen songs that capture her theme with their articulate imagery and hushed strength.
"Bound By The Beauty," written by Canadian singer/songwriter Jane Siberry, "is an ode to the enduring beauty of the earth, where usually we think of beauty as something very fleeting," says Griffith. "But the appreciation of beauty that's within us can be something that overcomes the uglier times." Griffith's spirited reading of the song seconds that thought.
Iris Dement's "My Life," a lovely piano and voice track highlighting Griffith's reflective vocals reminds us of our daily opportunity to add beauty to the lives of those closest to us: "I can give comfort to my friends/When they're hurting/I can make it seem better for awhile." The traditional Irish "Kind Friends and Companions" toasts the timeless quality of fellowship and acts of kindness, while John Martyn's song of conciliation, "May You Never," Bruce Cockburn's "Wondering Where The Lions Are" ("I'm thinking 'bout eternity," Griffith sings) and Dougie MacLean's anthem to kinship among people and nature, "Feels So Near," also follow the theme.
Gerry O'Beirne's "Half Moon Bay" (the bittersweet memory of unfulfilled love) and Richard Farina's "Swallow Song" (the sheer wonder of the eternal forces of nature) join in the theme of endurance, as does the other traditional song Griffith has chosen for the album - "Searching For Lambs" - if for no other reason than the indestructible life force that such a long-standing song represents.
"Music is an alchemy that transforms life experiences - good or bad - into a beautiful form," says Griffith. The shimmering beauty and understated intensity of each track on MINSTREL SONG is testament to that ideal.
Griffith particularly relates to music's ability to "soothe the fretted brow," as she says. As a full-time physical therapist, she is truly a two-career woman, singing and making records by night, weekends, or any free time while working a day job traveling around the Charles County area visiting homebound patients - mostly older people who have yet to regain their mobility after an acutely debilitating illness or injury. That she splits her time between a demanding professional vocation and the singing and performing she loves proves her own endurance.
"To tell the truth, it's a big challenge," Griffith admits, "but I find pleasure in helping my patients regain strength, confidence and freedom. This schedule definitely affects my personal life, and I absolutely hit the wall sometimes in terms of energy, but I feel very lucky to be involved in two occupations that are so rewarding. In both, I have the opportunity to connect with people and help them feel better."
Griffith was raised on a small farm in Maryland, where she spent her childhood tending the garden and animals, and singing. Her Irish-Catholic family of 12 sang folk songs around the house. Griffith joined the church choir, and before long, an older sister introduced her to the active Washington D.C. coffeehouse scene. She quickly gained popularity with audiences, but never really viewed music as a career option. "Coming from a family of limited means with pragmatic parents, we never saw the arts as a reliable way to support yourself," she says.
She attended the University of Maryland on scholarship, channeling her keen interest in helping others into her work as a physical therapist. After college, Griffith began singing in an all-female Celtic group called the Hags. From 1987-1991, she performed in the duo Hazelwood. She also continues to perform with the group Connemara (her Connemara recording, BEYOND THE HORIZON and SIREN SONG, are also available on the Blix Street label).
MINSTREL SONG represents her second solo effort (Blix Street released her first, GRACE, in 1996), one that, in addition to the thematic and practical, is special to Griffith on a personal level too. The record was produced by Marcy Marxer half of the GRAMMY®-nominated duo Fink and Marxer. "It was a pleasure to work with a producer who's also a close personal friend," says Griffith. Similarly, all the photography in the package was done by another friend, renowned photographer Irene Young, who has photographed musicians ranging from Laura Nyro to Suzanne Vega, Mary Black and many more.
But mostly MINSTREL SONG reflects a maturing singer's first thematic, most accomplished solo album and an opportunity to hear Griffith ripen into an assured and beautiful performer, giving us all a soothing and special gift: her music.