Patty Griffin tours behind 'American Kid'

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Patty Griffin is one of those musicians who should be a household name.

Not that she seems to really care whether she expands beyond cult status or not. The Grammy Award-winning artist seems perfectly content to make music that pleases her and her fans, whether she's solo or collaborating with others, including Robert Plant. (No, they're not married, she told Billboard).

"Studios are designed to pull out all of that beautiful ambience you get from singing in a room, and then the engineer puts it back in digitally or through whatever machinery you've got," Griffin told Billboard, speaking about her just-released album "American Kid." "But I wanted it to be a little rough around the edges. I didn't want it to be slicked up. I didn't want the life all drained out of it."

She arguably couldn't have chosen better collaborators. For this album, Griffin, who these days generally divides her time between Austin and the U.K., worked with North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson (also well-known for his work with other bands, including the Black Crowes) and drummer Cody Dickinson. The Dickinson Brothers are known for pushing the boundaries of their musical borders.

Onstage
Patty Griffin with Scott Miller
» Where: The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
» When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday
» Info: Sold out, though tickets may still be available through resellers; 202-397-SEAT; ticketmaster.com

The album, which was written in large part to honor Griffin's late father, is perhaps some of her most Americana music to date.

As soon as you learn a bit about Griffin's father, who she only credits as "Mr. Griffin," you understand the format choice. A high school science teacher who fought in World War II, Patty Griffin's dad lived for a time in a Trappist monastery, raised seven children, and bought young Patty a copy of the Beatles' 1967 album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" for her birthday, which changed her life.

Although Griffin said the album's songs are a tribute to her father, who died in 2009, it's more of a warm remembrance than sorrowful wail.

"It was recorded in Memphis," said Griffin. "Part of the reason was the chance to get away from what I'd been doing. ... With the Dickinsons, you're constantly seeing people who work to get away from what they're used to."

Not that Griffin changed everything. Craig Ross, who produced her 2004 album "Impossible Dream," produced "American Kid." Guitarist Doug Lancio, who has played with and produced work by Griffin, also joined in. And Robert Plant sings on "Ohio," "Faithful Son" and "Highway Song."

"My dad was getting ready to pass away and I was just kind of writing for myself -- he was a big influence for a lot of the record," Griffin told Billboard. "It's life, and everybody goes through it. But it was good to have that outlet, to be able to write songs about it."

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Nancy Dunham

Examiner Correspondent
The Washington Examiner