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Bootleg Country: Nanci Griffith – 11/29/98

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It is a proven fact. It is a distinguished truth. It is Holy Writ. It is absolutely impossible to hear Nanci Griffith’s version of “Across the Great Divide” for the first time and not immediately ask who it is singing, which is quickly followed by, “I like it.”

Seriously, I have played it for die hard rockers, Deadheads, jazz aficionados, and even my uncle who hasn’t listened to music since the Hoover administration and they have all, without fail, said the same words. The song is that good.

The rest of the album, Other Voice, Other Rooms follows suit. It’s brilliant in its conception and perfect in performance. It is essentially Nanci, performing her favorite songs with her favorite performers (who also happen to usually be the writers of those songs.)

Like a number of my now favorite performers, I came to Nanci through the BMG music club. You know the drill, get 10 CDs for a penny and then agree to buy a few more at regular club prices. The thing with BMG is that they have lots of sales, and so their regular club prices come out not so bad. I’ve done this scores of times over the years, sign up, complete the deal, cancel and then sign up again. It was a great way to broaden my music collection without spending a fortune.

During one of those periods, the little magazine they send each month had a blurb on it for Nanci’s Blue Roses From the Moon, and I snatched it up. Turns out the album was pretty danged good, and I quickly went out and bough her live album, One Fair Summer Evening. Turns out that album is no less than absolutely brilliant.

That album finds a very young Nanci playing with a small band in a small club, proving to the world that she belongs. The music is fabulous, but she really shines when she is talking between playing. She is shy and quirky, cute and funny. She tells little stories about the songs, that aren’t really about the songs, or even with any point at all, but they are so wonderful no one in the world really cares.

A favorite is her long ramble about going to Woolworths stores throughout the world, which is really about the noise the elevator makes (or lift as they say in Europe) which sounds similar to one little note on the guitar that shows up in “Love At The Five And Dime.” I’d write it out for you, but it wouldn’t make any sense, and really it doesn’t make any sense when she says it either, but it’s a lovely ramble anyway.

11/29/98

Barbican Centre
London, UK

This performance came shortly after her album Other Voices, Too, which is a sequel to Other Voices, Other Rooms and follows in the same vein as the first one – meaning Nanci playing her favorite songs for her favorite people. And this concert features some of those very favorite songs and people.

Artists such as Odetta, Dave Von Ronk, and a host of others wander back and forth onto the stage, to help Nanci out. This creates some wonderful noise, as well as plenty of distractions. Because so many are coming and going there are often long pauses between songs, and since most of the musicians are only playing for short periods of time, the inspiration is sometimes missing.

However, none of this really matters for the music is beautiful. Nanci is clearly in her element here, playing great folk songs that fit both her voice and sense of arrangement to a tee. Her musicians friends, are just that, friends and admirers of her work, playing songs they either wrote or are deep fans of as well.

Unfortunately, in the story telling department, older Nanci is spanked by young Nanci. She may be wiser, but she sure isn’t any cuter. Her little stories are just as rambly as before, but they are neither funny or sweet. She seems like a perfectly lovely woman, like an old aunt you visit on the weekends. But the spunk and hilarity that I fell in love with on the earlier disk is all but gone.

But the music, let’s get back to the sweet pure music. Everyone is clearly having a grand time, and it shows in the performance. Every song is fun, and interesting and played to perfection. This is folk music. Americana in England. True, organic music being played by masters and fans.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

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