Who is Nanci Griffith? On a basic level, of course, she's a folk-country artist who started out singing about love, life on the farm and surviving in the big city, then migrated to grander concerns. But where is her heart and, more vexingly, her talent? This return to the label of her early success will do little to resolve those questions. Her heart, surely, is with the big issues, and this CD of all new material weighs in on the death penalty, interracial marriage, G.W. Bush and B.H. Obama, among other topics. It also includes two songs, Tequila After Midnight and Pour Me a Drink, about a country-music staple that never before figured prominently in the Griffith oeuvre. We were better off.
Nothing here is as compelling as when Griffith stuck to country cliches (okay, and prostitution; Griffith has never been content with affairs of the heart). Still, the title track - about Richard and Mildred Loving, he white and she black - comes close to merging all of her grand ambitions. So does Griffith's denunciation of the execution of convicted cop killer Phillip Workman, Not Innocent Enough. Its suggestion that none of us are fit to judge seems a delicious irony for this schizophrenic singer/songwriter.