Ah the wonderful Patty Griffin. So many great albums to choose from. As in all music personal preference will always prompt friendly debate with each album often offering a slightly different take and musical slant from the artist in question. There are other, more celebrated Patty Griffin albums including her 1996 debut ‘Living with Ghosts’ but, in a career studded with highlights, this 2004 release, studio album number four, reveals Patty at her absolute pinnacle. This is Patty Griffin at her most affecting and intense, a voice quivering with emotion on an album full of brilliantly crafted songs.
This is, in the main, an album chock full of affecting ballads, brilliantly written, beautifully performed. There are a couple of exceptions where Griffin delves into Bonnie Raitt territory, offering up a more bluesy/gospel feel on ‘Love Throw a Line’ and ‘Standing’. Great tracks though these are, it is the ballads that make up the bulk of the album that sets ‘Impossible Dream’ apart.
A big departure from the rockier ‘Flaming Red’ it was 2002’s ‘1000 Kisses’ that paved the way for ‘Impossible Dreams’. It allowed Griffin to tone that power voice down a notch and deliver songs that touch every emotion. It is an album that oozes nostalgia and, as is the wont of every great singer, Griffin makes everything seem so very personal. ‘Useless Desires’ tells the story of a young woman taking a last wistful look around her hometown before moving on. ‘Florida’ takes that a step further “A couple of young girls went sailing down A1A into the arms of Florida, sailing down a highway, singing their heads off”.
It seems almost obscene to pluck standout tracks from an album full of them but, with her own gorgeous piano accompaniment, ‘Mother of God’ is a gold standard on an album full of contenders to that crown. Once again Griffin returns to that theme of looking back “When I was eighteen, we moved to Florida like everyone sick of the cold does. And I waited on old people waiting to die, I waited on them until I was”.
‘Kite Song’ gives another glimpse of Griffin’s ability to wring every ounce of emotion from a piano keyboard. Emmylou Harris and Julie Miller supply subtly affecting backing vocals on another track dripping with sepia-tinged nostalgia.
When discussing ‘Impossible Dream’ Griffin confessed to having written some of the saddest songs of her career to that point but she also felt a relief to have sung them. “More than anything I’ve done, Impossible Dream feels like me, right here, waving my arms, ‘Hello, I’m here, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing or what I’m talkin’ about—can you listen?”
Well, yes Patty, we can. Emotive female singer/songwriting doesn’t really get any better than this.