Patty Griffin Presents TAPE Album Review — Folk Singer Layers Emotion, Memory and Imagery

Bright, softly-strummed guitar sets the rhythm for our singer’s lilting voice, her words encased in a soft echo of static. She describes a night with her lover in Atlantic City:

...the chandeliers are so bright and so pretty
And big as a house
I hope they don't fall

One day they could
You never know…

This dual enchantment and precarity is threaded throughout the song, where the weight of the chandeliers and gamble of the slot machines seem to echo in her portrait of the man she accompanies:

I love him so much it hurts me inside
José with the faraway look in his eyes
And a trouble so deep you'll never get in
I put my head on his shoulder and hold him so tight

One day we could
You never know…

All at once, we experience her breathless excitement, forlorn hope and a conscious uncertainty in her relationship, and the future at large. This complex layering of emotions persists throughout the album, where themes of love, loss, nostalgia and possibility overlap and blend, often within just a single line of verse.

One Day We Could is the second track on Tape, the latest album from Grammy award-winning folk singer Patty Griffin. A mix of folk and country, with a bluesy touch of rock and roll,Tape is a collection of rarities, home recordings and unreleased demos, with intimate lyrics that befit their at-home conception. When combined with her vocals  — a range of soaring high notes, a Dolly Parton-esque twang, and husky lows that seem to succumb to emotion — the result is powerfully captivating, in this writer’s opinion.

Patty Griffin’s Album TAPE Combines Emotionally Charged Lyrics with Folk-Style Twang

While a few of the songs have a more polished sound quality and include a number of backing instruments, most of the tracks on Tape are stripped down, featuring Griffin alone on piano or acoustic guitar. Many of her lyrics seem to come from a very private, personal headspace — you might recognize your own internal dialogue in the way she processes her memories and articulates abstract, liminal emotions.

In Sundown, for example, she addresses an old friend as she sings a sweeping song of loss and bittersweet finality. She lists shadows and natural ephemera (extensions of the titular metaphor), then offers this aside:

And that's almost everything I know
About it all

Sprinkled throughout the album alongside her more complexly written lyrics are these simply worded admissions and turns of phrase. This writer found that these lines, more conversational than poetic, were often some of the most emotionally charged moments on the album — perhaps because they feel like thoughts that could wander through your own head during moments of vulnerability.

Nestled around these more abstract musings are lyrics rich with story and imagery. Little Yellow House describes the history of an abandoned home and its residents, and Griffin’s adulthood fantasies of running away, while Kiss of a Man recalls the narrator’s experience growing up in her family’s roadside bar, receiving (and returning) the forbidden gaze of its intoxicated patrons. Both provide backdrops for the same sort of wistful, internal reflection that characterizes the rest of the album, but are anchored around specific details, places and moments in time.

Patty Griffin TAPE
Griffin's self-titled 2019 album

The resulting album is intensely emotional and masterfully composed, but also deeply relatable, in this writer’s opinion. Griffin lets us in on her worldview and experience of events with a vulnerability that feels generously intimate — combined with the twang and heft of her instrumentals, the overall effect is both musically compelling and emotionally moving. 

Patty Griffin’s Tape is highly recommended for fans of folk music, and listeners looking to immerse themselves in an emotionally raw and contemplative musical headspace.


Click here for information about how to listen to Tape.

Images courtesy of Big Hassle Media


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About the Author: Lily LeaVesseur

Lily LeaVesseur has harbored a fondness for the arts since she was a few months old, when her parents took her on her first of many stroller rides through the halls of the Art Institute of Chicago. Even after moving to San Diego as a child, she returned many times so that she could stare down her favorite pieces, combing them over again and again for clues to their greatness.

She carried this enthusiasm like a missionary, and in high school petitioned to re-open the single Art History course on the roster so that she could study it with her friends. She loved feeling like she could unlock some sort of intangible mystery behind works of art, and looking for herself within the artists that created them.

Since then Lily has continued to explore art both analytically and creatively. She now writes poetry and non-fiction, sometimes accompanied by illustrations or watercolor, and hopes to one day collect these works into a graphic novel. When she's not writing or drawing, she can otherwise be found skating with friends, experimenting with new food combinations, and/or lying on the floor contemplating the transcendental nature of TikTok.

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