When I first played Patty Griffin's Children Running Through straight through, I have to admit I was under-whelmed by it. The first track, "You'll Remember," begins with a soft upright bass line that is so quiet I didn't hear it until I listened with headphones on. The only other instrumentation beyond Griffin's voice is a light snare drum. It's a seductive song, but not at all what I was expecting.
Admittedly, my prior exposure to Griffin has been limited to a handful of tracks on mix tapes from friends. Most of those songs are pop-folk with a blues rock edge, which makes the jazzy introduction to her new album all that more surprising. I continued to listen to the album in the way I listen to most new CDs — in my office at work as background music, and my opinion did not change even after the third listen. So, I put it away.
A couple of months later, I pulled it out again, but this time on my iPod with headphones. Suddenly, all the subtly and layers I missed the first few times were brought into the fore-front, making me catch my breath in surprise at the beauty of the songs.
This is not an album to play in the background. This is an album that demands your full attention to be appropriately appreciated. I knew that she was a great songwriter, but I did not fully comprehend that until I paid closer attention to the songs on Children Running Through. Each song on the album tells a story both in lyric and instrumentation. By the end of the album, the listener is left with the sense of having looked through the scrap books of twelve very different people.
Take for example the song "Stay On The Ride." The song is a snapshot of an old man on a bus, performed in a classic R&B style, with the command to stay on task if you want to get somewhere. The bass line is played on acoustic guitar and cumulatively has the feel of a bus bouncing from side to side as it trundles down streets. By the end of the song, the listener has been taken along on the ride and is as familiar with the man as anyone else who sees him daily.
Occasionally, Griffin is joined by Emmylou Harris. Their voices are so similar that it gives the listener the feeling that Griffin is singing a duet with an older version of herself. I have no doubt that Griffin will continue to gift the world with her talented songwriting through future recordings and performances for many years to come.