Nanci Griffith | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Nanci Griffith


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Nanci Griffith is a lifer practitioner of a personal folkie-pop that may never penetrate the mass consciousness but can provide a lot of pleasure to those who give her a chance. She doesn't have the stature of a Jimmie Dale Gilmore or the blinding talent of an Iris DeMent; she's too slick to be a Bill Morrissey, and sometimes her lyrics . . . well, let's just say you could be forgiven for guffawing at Time's description of her as "one of America's greatest poets." (Sample: "I thought I heard your voice / Say I love you today / But it was only the sound of my heart breaking.") But she does have a voice that is the very definition of dulcet and a way or two with a hook. And over time her resolute desire both to give props to her progenitors and to put out crisp, modern-sounding records lends her a gravity and substance that a cursory listen to her albums might not reveal. After decades of life on the road she hit a peak a year or two back with Other Voices, Other Rooms, a rigorously interpreted and scintillatingly produced collection of folk standards--from "Wimoweh" to "Boots of Spanish Leather"--done with respect and verve. Her newest, Flyer, is disappointing; you wanted her to use Other Voices as the foundation for a breakthrough statement, and she just doesn't. But there is a frame to the album--the troubadour Griffith is the "flyer" of the title--and she manages a couple of nice musical strokes: the gentle propulsion of (the Peter Buck-produced) "Time of Inconvenience" and a duet with Adam Duritz on "Going Back to Georgia." Griffith is pretty good in front of an audience. She reveals an earthiness absent on her records, and onstage her folk heritage--an unpretentious intertwining of personal feelings and musical history--comes alive, at least for an evening. Tuesday (sold out) and Wednesday, 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 472-0449 or 559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/John Chiasson.

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