Published Sep 25, 2015Patty Griffin took six years to follow up Children Running Through with an album of entirely new original material, but the relatively brief two-year gap since the excellent American Kid should not be cause for trepidation: Servant of Love shows no hint of a drop in quality. In fact, this typically stellar set of songs may also be the Maine native's most eclectic and adventurous full-length yet.
The singer revisits well-worn themes on Servant of Love — love in its many forms, separation, loss — but she often finds new ways to dress up her consistently incisive and insightful lyrics. A bit of blues ("There Isn't One Way," the slow-burning "Hurt A Little While"), a touch of rock'n'roll (the lusty "Snake Charmer"), some luminous folk ("Made of the Sun," "Rider of Days") — this is all familiar territory for Griffin, but there is also a welcome sense of creative restlessness and limitless possibilities in the way she moves from one style to the next throughout the album, adding to an already rich palette.
On "Everything's Changed," a kalimba blends with a guitar to approximate the sound of a ticking clock, bringing urgency to a song already anchored by a deep sense of displacement. A jazz influence also crops up on the spare, piano-led title track, which features unusual chord changes, trumpet improvisations by Ephraim Owens and an emotionally charged lead vocal mixed way up high.
Griffin may be a peerless writer of intimate, small-scale character studies that somehow also feel universal, but she doesn't shy away from the political on Soldier of Love, tackling the senseless death of John Crawford III — a 22-year-old African-American shot by police at Wal-Mart while holding a toy gun — on "Good and Gone," a bleak, drone-y Appalachian ballad.
That the song never feels out of place next to the elegiac folk of "250,000 Miles" or the heavy-hearted, quiet majesty of the Jackson Browne-like "You Never Asked Me" ("It was an exercise in catastrophe / It was a dance of destruction") is a testament to both Griffin's high standards and unparalleled sensitivity as a songwriter. (PGM/Thirty Tigers)