Talking of her break up with Robert Plant, Griffin’s said that these things happen. Perhaps so, but listening to some of the tracks on her new album Servant of Love, the first on her own imprint, you’re left in no doubt that it left scars and bruises. “It was an exercise in catastrophe, it was a dance of destruction”, she sings on the intimate piano ballad You Never Asked Me, the first words of which are “I don’t believe in love”, although she does qualify this rather sweeping statement in terms of that once in a lifetime feeling. Elsewhere, in more rumbustious form, Gunpowder, with its loose limbed slide and muted trumpet sees it as a predatory (at least from the male side) affair, “Robbing cradles and the graves….draining rivers till they’re dry”, declaring herself “the water in your taps…a little fish caught in the net.”
The relationship’s collapse also clearly informs the slow burn, swamp blues Hurt A Little While, another slide outing, though while she may cry a little while, there’s the upbeat acceptance that “one of these days I’m gonna smile.” The ripples are there too on the ghostly pulses of Everything’s Changed, the melancholic simple acoustic widescreen Americana of Rider of Days and the early hours jazzy vibe of the acoustic gutar and keys backed semi-spoken Noble Ground where she acknowledges “there ain’t no one without blame.”
As such, it would be easy to read the lyrics of the sparse folk-blues Good And Gone, where she sings “I’m gonna make sure he’s good and gone, gonna make sure he’s good and dead…gonna make sure he knows his place, wipe that smile off his face” as that of a woman scorned, only to learn it was actually written in reaction to the police shooting of John Crawford, an innocent Walmart shopper.
This may seem at odds with the pervading theme of love and relationships, but it does connect with a parallel idea of loss while its sparse folk bones also rattle in the stark mother-daughter narrative of 250,000 Miles, the musical mood of which reminds me of both the gothic Americana of Ben Glover’s Blackbird and the Eastern colours of both Led Zep and Plant’s Band of Joy.
Ranging across blues, country and jazz, while the seductive Snake Charmer adopts a sort of world music rockabilly shuffling groove and from venom and loss to acceptance and hope, it’s perhaps best represented by the two framing tracks. It opens on the quiet, stripped down jazz piano, bowed bass and muted trumpet textured five minutes title track, the initial steps of the journey as she seeks escape into the depths of love, her voice soaring as she sings “I want to live by your ocean, moved by the waves, no one can see.” Twelve numbers later it ends on the mandolin and acoustic guitar strummed Shine A Different Way, an upbeat songs of rebirth that ends the journey by the glistening waves yearned for at the start.
The press release talks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rumi and Rilke, but you don’t have to have a grounding in American transcendentalism or Eastern or German romantic mysticism to have your heart beat along with hers.
Review by: Mike Davies