Nanci Griffith “Working In Corners”

Craft Recordings, 2023

‘Working In Corners’ is a fascinating collection bearing witness to Griffith’s development from being a local Texas artist to becoming an internationally renowned singer and songwriter.

Nanci Griffith would have turned 70 in July 2023 had she not died in August 2021 after a long illness.  To celebrate her life and work, Craft Records, Concord’s reissue specialist label, is putting out her first four albums as a box set, ‘Working In Corners’  in both CD and vinyl formats.  Rounder, another Concord imprint, will also be releasing a specially commissioned tribute to Griffith, ‘More Than A Whisper: Celebrating The Music Of Nanci Griffith.’

The four records comprising the box are:
·      ‘There’s A Light Beyond These Woods’ (1978);
·      ‘Poet In My Window’ (1982);
·      ‘Once In A Very Blue Moon’ (1984); and
·      The Last of the True Believers (1986).

The package comes with in-depth liner notes by Holly Gleason (Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Times) and producer Jim Rooney, rare photos and memories from friends and collaborators.

‘There’s a Light Beyond These Woods’ was first issued on Austin, TX label BF Deal.  Recorded over the 1977/78 new year, it comprises nine songs of which six are written by Griffith and a seventh is a co-write with Maggie Graham.  Supporting musicians include Griffith’s then-husband Eric Taylor and label owner Michael Williams plus a cast of local Austin musicians.  Griffith’s distinctive vocal and delivery are instantly recognizable. The title song ‘There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret)’ with its tale of lasting friendship is an early Griffith classic

1982’s ‘Poet In My Window’ was released on Vermont acoustic label (owned by Rounder) Philo.  The box set version opens with ‘Can’t Love Wrong’, a CD bonus track not on the original album.  Its themes of loneliness the life of the travelling musician, exile and loss run through the album.  ‘Wheels’ features Griffith’s father’s barbershop quartet on backing vocals.

Switching her centre of operations to Nashville to Cowboy Jack Clements’ home studio and with a fine group of backing musicians including Lloyd Green (pedal steel), Bela Fleck (banjo) and Mark O’Connor (mandolin, fiddle), ‘Once In A Very Blue Moon’ also has Rooney acting as producer for the first time.  The album sees the emergence of the classic Griffith sound and adds the social witness side to her repertoire with ‘Ghost In The House’ and ‘Love Is A Hard Waltz’ along with the inclusion of a a couple of more up-tempo tunes.  Although the bulk of the songs are Griffith’s originals her version of Lyle Lovett’s ‘If I Were The Woman You Wanted’ is a gem with Lovett on backing vocal.  The title track, Griffith’s take on Eugene Levine and Eric Alper’s ‘Once In A Very Blue Moon’ became a staple of her live set as well as providing the name for her backing group.

Grammy-nominated ‘The Last Of The True Believers’ is the last of the four albums in the box.  Like its predecessor, it was recorded at Clements’ studio and co-produced by Rooney and Griffith.  Again, Green, Fleck and O’Connor are prominent amongst the players.  The album’s second track ‘Love At The Five & Dime’ is one of Griffith’s best-known songs with its moving tale of teenage sweethearts’ long and loving relationship.  Griffith covers Tom Russell’s Oslo country classic ‘St Olav’s Gate’ with more than a trace of humour and backing vocals from her dad, Russell, Robert Earl Keen Jr and Richard Dobson.

The album wasn’t a commercial success but artistically is a triumph.  The record also yields more excellent songs especially ‘More Than A Whisper’ (a co-write with Bobby Nelson) and ‘Banks Of The Pontchartrain’.  ‘The Last Of The True Believers’ was her breakthrough artistically and led to Griffith being signed to MCA and going on to chart success.

‘Working In Corners’ is a fascinating collection bearing witness to Griffith’s development from being a local Texas artist to becoming an internationally renowned singer and songwriter.

8/10
8/10

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