Hearts in Mind gives modern look at love and war
Kori Frazier | Kent, OH United States | 02/09/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Throughout the nearly three decades of her career as a singer/songwriter, folk musician Nanci Griffith has been no stranger to love. With a true gift for capturing the profound ideas and experiences of human existence through the power of words, her songs vividly depict emotions of joy, grief, melancholy, and passion which are universal to all who listen. It is this creative capacity that has made Griffith's music a powerful force in the contemporary folk world, earning her a Grammy for her 1993 album Other Voices, Other Rooms, countless accolades for her eclectic style of music, and renown and respect throughout the world.
Having said this, it should come as no surprise that Hearts in Mind, Griffith's fifteenth studio album, is no exception to the rule. The follow up to 2001's Clock Without Hands and a recent live project, Winter Marquee, this latest collection of original songs is already being hailed by critics as not only her best studio recording in over a decade, but as one that combines the simple folk style of the early years of her career with the more modern style of her recent music. Despite this merging of the best of both worlds, however, another characteristic makes it one of the most unique recordings of Griffith's career: Hearts in Mind is a concept album dealing with the conflicting forces of love and war, with the unbreakable connection forged between two human beings overcoming even the most insurmountable obstacles.
Indeed, Hearts in Mind is in many ways a journey toward satisfaction in love and life. The album kicks off with "Simple Life," a track fused with steel guitars, mandolins, and a traditional country sound that captures its message of seeking minimalism and meaning. While the track sets up the album's salute to love by declaring that "I want a simple life/Like my mother/And one true love for my older years," Hearts in Mind celebrates multiple other kinds of human love as well; discussing the love of the faith and guidance of religion in "Angels" and the love that exists between a parent and child in "Beautiful," a jazz-themed tribute to Griffith's stepfather that defies the folk rock feel of most of her music. On "Rise to the Occasion," a track that reunites Griffith with guest vocalist Mac MacAnally, with whom she collaborated on one of her most beloved love story songs, "Gulf Coast Highway," the album even examines the contradictory nature of falling in love, leaving the listener with the thought that "We can touch the sky above/At the Angel's invitation/And we don't even have to fall in love/Just rise to the occasion." The emotive "Love Conquers All" takes on a similar theme, looking at the stories of three couples who are willing to beat the odds against them for a successful relationship despite their very different cultural backgrounds and limitations, making for one of the album's lighter, yet most powerful moments.
Despite the uplifting and inspirational nature of these songs, however, Griffith counterbalances them with tracks that showcase the stumbling blocks of relationships as well, particularly on the heartbreakingly beautiful "Mountain of Sorrow," in which she examines the difficulties of struggling to recover from the end of a relationship, as well as "Before," a beautiful acoustic number in which the speaker is haunted by memories of a past relationship, dreaming "of who we used to be/And the hope we had before." In "Back When Ted Loved Sylvia," written by Griffith's harmony vocalist, Le Ann Etheridge, the album takes on a historical approach to the idea of failed love by examining the tumultuous relationship between modern poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, beginning with their creative "life of academia" and leading up to the dissolution of their marriage and Plath's suicide in the early `60s.
As a concept album, however, Hearts in Mind is as much about war and the desolation and destruction it brings to life as it is about how life is enriched by love. Having seen ex-husband and fellow folk musician Eric Taylor suffer from the posttraumatic stress of his experiences fighting in Vietnam, the lasting effects of the conflict have long been an issue of personal significance for Griffith, motivating her to serve as a volunteer for Vietnam Veterans of America and Campaign for a Landmine Free World and travel to Cambodia and other nations to work with those still impacted by a war that took place four decades ago.
"As an artist, I feel I have an obligation to give back," Griffith said in a recent interview with Rita Houston of New York City's WFUV. "I have never been a fan of jumping on the bandwagon and doing something just because everyone else is doing it, but it is important to me to use my creative and artistic abilities for causes I believe in."
The result of her "giving back" through music is some of the most haunting songs of Griffith's career. From "Heart of Indochine," her personal reflections on the Vietnam conflict and hope for peace "in this twenty-first century," to her exploration of the changes the country has endured since the war in "Old Hanoi," to the stirring "Big Blue Ball of War" which describes the ubiquity of human conflict in the world, these tracks offer a unique vision of a country torn apart by battle and one woman's desire for the achievement of peace.
In "I Love This Town," a duet with rock/pop musician Jimmy Buffett which may be viewed by some country fans as the folk world's equivalent to "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," his chart topping collaboration with Alan Jackson, Griffith sings about her admiration for a place that is welcoming and full of enthusiasm despite its imperfections. While her latest release has precious few imperfections of its own, listeners of all musical genres are likely to have this same reaction upon listening. As a longtime fan of Nanci Griffith, "I love this album," and am confident that others will as well. Released on Feb. 1, Hearts in Mind makes for a perfect start to the month, as well as a perfect Valentine's gift for any loved one who enjoys excellent music.
Her Best In YEARS
Avid Runner | USA | 04/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After several years of tinkering with the style of music that put her on the map (with usually decent, but mixed results) Nanci Griffith returns with her best album of mostly original material in more than 15 years. Yes, this album is her best of original material since "Little Lover Affairs" back in 1988.
Kicking off with the song "Simple Life," co-written and sung with up and comer Elizabeth Cook," the album finds Nancy touching on many of the same themes that she has explored over the years. Her interest in Vietnam continues with "The Heart of Indochine" and "Old Hanoi". Long term Nanci fans will delight in the literally reference that later song makes to the great writer Graham Greene as well as to the Sylvia Plath inspired "Back When Ted Loved Sylvia."
Wonderful produced by Griffith and pat McInerney HEARTS IN MIND has a host of guest artists including Jennifer Kimball, Jimmy Buffett, Clive Gregson, Mac McAnally and the aforementioned Elizabeth Cook. That a gorgeous jazz flavored track like the appropriately titled "Beautiful" can find a home on this album without seeming out of place rings as a real testament to the fact that Nanci's muse is well on target."
Another Nanci Gem
James Troiano | Stillwater, Maine United States | 02/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Nanci Griffith keeps evolving in her music. You never know what to expect and that is what makes her interesting. There is some marvelous music and poetry in Hearts and Minds. The songs Indochine and Old Hanoi are moving and lovely. Then she rocks in songs like I Love This Town. The songs are about love and war and no one tells a story better than this Texas singer- songwriter."