There are times when listening to a new Patty Griffin album feels like taking a drink of your favorite wine. You know what to expect, you already love it, and you are ready to savor it. Children Running Through is like you put that wine away for a year or two and found that not only is it as good as you remember, it's even more complex, evocative, and intense than before.
This is an artist at the top of her game; she knows what she wants and how to get it in terms of the feel, emotion and character of her music. There is a swagger and comfort in the music here that only comes with the time and patience of a true artist. Patty shows more than ever before that she is one of the best singer-songwriters working today.
Griffin chooses to start off with a moody little jazz number, all brushy drum touches and the wonderful upright bass stylings of Glenn Worf (who has played with, well, just about everybody).
"Trapeze" is a vibrant standout, as Griffin uses her uncanny ability to use an economy of words to paint an evocative portrait of her subject, an aging trapeze artist. "She started with us on the back of a horse, barely sixteen and already divorced …"
An already amazing song is helped along by the trademark ragged and mournful harmonies of Emmylou Harris. The song continues to build in tension and emotion before dissolving in a chorus of street-preacher hallelujahs.
"Getting Ready" offers a rollicking yet reluctant sendoff to a lover, one of those people who was never any good for you to begin with. The furious strumming that sets the tempo for the piece is quickly joined by a hard driving backbeat. Swaggering rockabilly guitars and laconic background vocals lend to that age old rock-n-roll tension between sloppy and tight, looseness and precision. Great production from Mike McCarthy (Spoon, … And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead) here.
There are so many other amazing touches, referencing great moments from past Patty albums while at the same time forging new ground in a refinement of craft. The sheer loveliness of the arrangement of "Burgundy Shoes" gently reminds us all of those childhood days gone by, when our favorite shoes and some bright sunshine were all the happiness we needed. The guitar strumming that drives "No Bad News" gets an extra lift from a great horn arrangement by John Mark Painter. "Someone Else's Tomorrow" offers a simple, yet haunting piano melody that along with Patty's vocal effectively conveys the regret of the song's subject.
I know the year is still fairly new, but if anything comes along that knocks this out of the top 5 of the year for me I'll be surprised. There's nothing more satisfying that having a favorite artist just outdo themselves when you think they can't get much better. If you've never listened to Patty before, this would be a great introduction. And if you are already a Patty fan, you're already enjoying this one immensely, right?