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 Patty Griffin, Impossible Dream (ATO)
by: Steve Horowitz

The denizens of Austin, Texas, the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World, love the transplanted, hometown girl Patty Griffin. I witnessed Griffin perform live a few year's ago at Jovita's, a medium sized restaurant in the Lone Star capital city, and it seemed everyone in the audience knew all the words to her new songs, even though her latest record had not yet been released. Well, Griffin does have a way with writing memorable lyrics. Her latest release, Impossible Dream, showcases her songwriting talents.

Consider the beginning of "Top of the World," where Griffin cuts to the heart of the matter in three short prayer-like lines: "I wished I was smarter/I wish I was stronger/I wished I loved Jesus the way my wife does." She makes the narrator's spiritual and familial troubles clear without sentimentalizing or belittling them. Griffin implies he's already doomed by having him speak in the past tense as he tells of his sinful behavior ("I thought I broke the wings off that little songbird'), but also reveals his repentance by having him confess. And then Griffin ratchets up the intensity by including a home recording of her parent's singing the "The Impossible Dream" from the Broadway musical The Man of La Mancha at the end of the track. Is Griffin implying her father cut short her mother's singing career and/or Griffin's dream of becoming a singer or does her parents' singing appear here because coincidentally this is the exact midpoint of the disc?

Griffin doesn't provide a definitive answer, although the cut that follows ("Rowing Song") with its chorus of "The further I go/more letters from home never arrive/and I'm alone all of the way/all of the way" indicates how lonesome she feels on life's journey. Or maybe she's not talking about her father at all, but using a father figure as a metaphor for God. She sings several gospel-tinged tunes on the record, including the Sister Rosetta Thorpe style "Love Throws a Line" and the psalm-like "Standing." Religious imagery also appears in many of the other tunes, such as "Cold as it Gets," "Florida," and "Mother of God." The conflict between heaven and hell, whether it is a world full of love or one without it, or a naïve innocence and a wise knowing, infuses all of Griffin's material with a blessed tension.

Most of the songs rock to a steady beat. Griffin strums her guitar as if it's a switchblade she clicks open and shut to make a menacing point. She's ably joined by ex-Small Faces pianist and fellow transplanted-Austinite,Ian McLagan on piano and former John Mellencamp protégé Lisa Germano on violin. Americana country superstar Emmylou Harris (who has recorded several of Griffin's songs) and Julie Miller (who with her husband Buddy has also covered Griffin's tunes) add sweet harmony vocals to the record.

But Griffin is clearly the star of the show. She has a rich, expressive vocals that touch the heartstrings, whether she's lamenting leaving her hometown or watching the sun set over the telephone wires. Griffin can put an ache in her voice to show the pain while simultaneously sound strong enough to conquer that which has hurt her. Like the hero of The Man of La Mancha, she has a nobility of spirit that is not afraid to dream or to share her dreams. Griffin's Impossible Dream proves there are ways to transcend the material world just by using one's creative energies.