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It has been quite some time since Nanci Griffith has made an album as strong and consistent as Intersection. That is the good news; bad news is how it came about. For Griffith speaks of ‘I’ve had a hard life, and write it down’ on the title-track, and how the album is a self-examination of family fall-outs, personal bust-ups and how on ‘Bad Seed’ rejection by her father has left an indelible emotional scar on her. It seems like he would rather call her than concentrate on the good things she has accomplished an not be so keen to ridicule her.
She sure has exposed herself, and with so much heartache it is little surprise she has pretty much made songwriting her life. A wonderful observer, Nanci’s ability to pull from situations and make some near anthems set Griffith aside from the crowd. Strange as it may seem, I find this collection one of her most relaxed and honest albums in years. It has an organic rush or two too as in the bluegrass cut, written by one of her heroes Loretta Lynn, ‘High On A Mountain Top’ (featuring Steel Drivers’ banjo ace Richard Bailey) and of course, ‘Hell No (I’m Not Alright’) that blends a sound akin to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Spitting fire and cutting to the heart it bounces along, and will become one of her biggest ever songs. Politicians may well choose to use it too. The American elections are already brewing and those in opposition will of course argue that things aren’t alright! In the past I have not always favoured her force-feed us with Buddy’s music or her stance against various injustices but this time there is a simple from the heart honesty and not contrived. Maybe I should say, anger. Whatever, it works and it is great to see her sensitive cover Blaze Foley’s ‘If I Could Fly’ (be sure check-out Gurf Morlix’s tribute to Blaze’s music; Blaze Foley’s 114th Wet Dream) and to rerecord her own ‘Just Another Morning’. An inspired decision, and with Peter Cooper and Eric Brace on harmony vocals to go with the work of Maura and Pete Kennedy it reaches new heights as does Griffith on an album that came about when Pete brought his studio down from New York to Nanci’s home.
‘Stranded In The High Ground’ is a bouncing, full-voiced piece written by Griffith and the band so typical of her work. While ‘Davy’s Last Picture’ could easily have been written by her but wasn’t. It comes from her days hanging out at Nashville’s Brown’s Diner where she would accompany fellow singer-songwriter Ron Davies (late brother of Gail Davies) and heard Robbin Bach sing her (and Betty Reeves) song. As for Davies he is represented by the wonderful ‘Waitin’ On A Dark Eyed Gal’ that also fits the bill perfectly and sounds better every time I hear it. While the album as a transitional intersection in her life it also sees her back doing the simple things, in a focussed manner with her back at her best.
Pete and Maura Kennedy (who between them plays various guitars, ukelele, mandolin, organ and tambourine and lend harmony vocals) alongside percussionist Pat McInerney cover the instrumental side. As already noted I am suitably impressed by the whole deal, not least the running order. ‘Come On Up Mississippi’ with a call for a better deal for its people with the moody, blues fashion electric lead guitar and slide it casts spare stark imagery. The real-life scenario Griffith is so good at creating as in ‘Bethlehem Steel’ that speaks of the closing of the iconic mill. An all too common occurrence as work goes overseas.
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