Patty Griffin: Flaming Red

This review was supposed to be about Patty Griffin’s most recent album, Children Running Through. I’m familiar with Patty Griffin, master of the slow-burning, introspective folk song, but I hadn’t yet heard Patty Griffin, the rocker.

Then I got Children Running Through on eMusic, and I was struck by the more uptempo songs on the album. She sounds really good letting loose. Flaming Red has the reputation of being Griffin’s rock album, so I gave it a shot. I like it better. In fact, it just might be my favorite of hers.

Griffin has a big, powerful voice. Her minimal debut, Living with Ghosts, felt jarring because that voice tended to overwhelm the sparse environs of the music. As spellbinding as her quieter works are, the big rock gestures of Flaming Red make for a more suitable setting.

"I came to find out none of that shit was even true," she spits out on "Change", with a lot of fire behind the expletive. Even more sobering is her dramatic use of the word "faggot" on "Tony", a more literate, less cryptic version of Pearl Jam’s "Jeremy". In Griffin’s hands, these loaded words hammer the point of the story.

"Hey Tony, what’s so good about dying?" she sings. "Think I might do a little dying today/Looked in the mirror saw that little faggot staring back at him/Took out a gun and blew himself away." I choked when heard that line.

Griffin really drives the momentum of the album almost to the end. "Goodbye" pulls back from the big guitar work on "Tony" and "Changes", but "Carry Me", "Wiggly Fingers" and "Blue Sky" push Flaming Red to its peak.

After barreling so hard and fast, she wisely slows down for the last four tracks. The more reflective Griffin resurfaces, but it’s not a total retreat into the familiar. Rather, these unwinding tracks are full of atmosphere and texture.

Flaming Red was released in 1998, and it’s criminal how it never conquered the world the same way the wispy likes of Paula Cole and Sarah McLachlan did.

As for Children Running Through … well, it’s no Flaming Red. Griffin does take a few moments to recapture that fire, but it’s still anchored in (what she calls) the "sad folkie" sparseness of her more fan-pleasing work. It’s not a bad album — certainly better than Impossible Dream — but I don’t think it delivers on what the singer promised would be a more rocking work.

But if you want rock, turn up Flaming Red.