Sands Of Time by Grace Griffith
CD Released July 2003 by Blix Street Records
Singer Grace Griffith has won many hearts and minds, and significant critical praise, bringing her sublime voice to traditional Celtic and folk songs, melding the ageless beauty of these timeless melodies with a fresh passion for the messages in the music. For Grace, singing this music has always been her way to connect with an audience and share with them the warmth and affirmation inherent in these traditional songs.
But much has changed for Grace since her last record, and it’s given her a new perspective, not only in her music, but in her life as well.
“It has been brought clearly to my consciousness what really is important and what endures,” says Grace. “I’ve really come to the conclusion that the connection we have with other people is one of the most important things we need to learn about in life.”
As often happens in life, it’s the bitter that helps us appreciate the sweet. What has brought this new focus to Grace’s personal perspective has been a series of health problems, including a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Yet, despite the debilitating nature of the illness, it has helped Grace to more fully appreciate the good moments in life, and that’s the concept of SANDS OF TIME, her third solo album for Blix Street Records.
The collection is a sometimes melancholy, sometimes spirited, but ultimately uplifting thematic exploration of what’s essential to one’s life, a road of discovery that leads to a greater understanding of what happiness really means, even if it comes in the face of adversity.
It has also led her to break from her standard repertoire of mostly traditional songs to explore different avenues of music to convey the theme of the album.
“You’re never too old as long as you can still see something new when you go out for a walk,” Grace comments. “I felt very much like I was out on a new frontier for myself, but that’s a nice feeling because you need to try new frontiers or you can get kind of numb.”
Grace reached further than usual in selecting songs that encapsulated the range of emotions she was going through, but that ultimately sent a powerfully positive message to the listener. “The core thing is that this music will make people feel more at peace and give them a sense of celebration and remaining young at heart,” she says.
Indeed, from beginning to end, the album is a bittersweet expression of the joys and inescapable sorrows of life.
“Carry You,” written by singer/songwriter Sam Phillips, wife of well-known producer T-Bone Burnett (Bob Dylan, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) honors the support system inherent in friendship, that shared burdens are lightened burdens, and that brotherhood can surmount obstacles.
Similarly, the Leonard Bernstein song “Make Our Garden Grow,” from the musical “Candide,” conveys the sentiment that community can tear down the walls that keep us from happiness.
In “Almost Like Being In Love,” the Lerner and Loewe classic from the musical “Brigadoon,” Grace takes a simple song of romantic love and infuses it with a love-of-life grandeur. “For me, it’s more a general love of being alive, like Snoopy when he gets his supper — he really celebrates,” Grace says humorously.
Other songs will strike the listener with the kind of overwhelming and heartwarming joy and appreciation that can simply bring tears to one’s eyes. With the Kris Kristofferson song “Moment of Forever,” Grace acknowledges it’s in the sadness life often brings that we can find the seed of joy. “You have to learn to let go of things — things change, we age, people die. It’s so important to be glad in the good moments that you have,” says Grace, who calls this song “achingly sweet.”
The album’s title track and cornerstone, “Sands Of Time,” is about reincarnation, but for Grace it represents an ageless connection that changes form, but remains throughout different seasons and different lifetimes. It’s a kind of simultaneously awing and comforting thought.
Other songs express the simple joys of living. The Italian song “Estaté” (pronounced ess-stah-tay) brings an almost samba-like lilt to music that expresses the poetry and sultry mood of a summer day (indeed, the title means “summer” in Italian). “Hold Me Forever” is a beautiful lullaby to love. “’Til They Discovered Music” was, as Grace says, “just for fun.” The playful music highlights the message that through wars, social injustice and personal problems, music can have a healing and uplifting impact on our lives.
Behind the scenes of these wide-ranging song selections was a new production team for Grace. Still with her, as she has been for some time, was Marcy Marxer—half of the Grammy®-nominated duo Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer—who has worked with Grace for as long as the two have been close friends, including on her two previous recordings, GRACE (1996) and MINSTEL SONG (2000). (Grace has also recorded two CDs as part of the Celtic music trio Connemara.)
Co-producing the record were Lenny Williams and Chris Biondo. Both of them were key creative talents behind the emergence of the late singer Eva Cassidy, who was brought to Blix Street’s attention by Grace. According to Grace, all three producers brought unique gifts to the project.
“Bill Straw (president of Blix Street Records) thought Lenny and I would be a good musical mix,” explains Grace, “and Chris was welcoming and encouraging from Day One, coaxing me to come into the studio as often as I could and really putting his soul into the work. I think they both felt gratitude toward me for helping Eva and missed the creative outlet they’d shared with her. I really love these guys.
“Lenny is an incredibly intuitive musician. He’s really got the chops, but he has an uncommon ability to play with sensitivity, from the heart.
“Chris is not only a great player, but he’s an engineering genius. He makes the technical stuff go so smoothly it’s amazing.
“Marcy is dear close friend. She’s a very busy performer on her own, so working on the music is a good excuse to have some time together. Marcy is just a real soul sister to me. She can play anything under the sun.”
A longtime respected physical therapist in the Washington D.C. area, Grace has always viewed her therapy work and singing as two parts of the whole of her life, with both elements allowing her to communicate with, help and, in different respects, heal people. Now, her therapy work has been curtailed by Parkinson’s to just an advisory role, and her own illness has wrought changes in her life that have uprooted her norm and strongly informed SANDS OF TIME.
“(My situation) is requiring a lot of change and has also changed my identity,” Grace comments. She says the song “Carry You” functions as a good example of how her life has been turned upside down in many ways. “I have many times been in the position to support someone who’s faltering and helped them regain the confidence to walk. So I’ve been able to be kind of a hero and helper, and now I have to find other ways to strengthen my people and also myself. I’ve often counseled people on how to accept help from others, and now I have to accept help myself. There are times at the end of the night when I’m really tired, and I can’t pack up my own gear. It’s hard to gracefully let people help, and now I have to practice what I preach.”
Thankfully, the disease has not yet affected her singing voice, which remains a supple and subtle instrument that creates its impact from nuance and heartfelt emotion.
And if there is in fact good to be taken from Grace’s recent bouts with adversity, it’s that it has made her more willing to stretch, to reach out further for the best in her, to seize the opportunities for musical exploration while she has the strength to pursue them. And though Grace insists that the traditional and Celtic music for which she has become much loved will always be an integral part of her life as a musician, SANDS OF TIME has turned out to be a very successful chance to spread her wings.
“Singing songs like these is a form of affirmation that really does help me,” she points out. “They’re not just melodies and words. Singing a song that has a message has always had a sense of fulfillment for me.”