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Various Artists

Trouble in the Fields An Artists' Tribute to Nanci Griffith – 2012 (Paradiddle)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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After a career that spans more than a quarter of a century, Nanci Griffith's reputation as one of the queens of contemporary country is not only well deserved, but growing more assured with every new album. While other artists like Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin may draw more references, Griffith's recorded catalogue remains the envy of her contemporaries, thanks to sentimental narratives and winsome ballads that are both expressive and introspective practically in the same breath.

If Griffith's still something of a hidden treasure when it comes to the world at large - her massive popularity in Ireland, the U.K. and her native Texas notwithstanding - this tender tribute offered by friends and contemporaries ought to go a long way towards illuminating her precious story songs. Not surprisingly, these covers don't diverge from Griffith's template; sung with a similar sensitivity and emotional insight, the material adapts well to the contributors' own MO while staying true to the sentiments conveyed through the songs.

The range is remarkable, from fellow Texan Sara Hickman's upbeat take on Listen to the Radio and the rich resolve Jerry Jeff Walker gives Talk to Me While I'm Listening, to the gentle caress found in Caroline Doctorow's version of Trouble in the Fields and the folk finesse imbued in Edwina Hayes' read of It's a Hard Life Wherever You Go. Credit executive producers Pete and Maura Kennedy, longtime members of Griffith's backing band, with assembling such an all-star cast, one that also includes the late John Stewart, Red Molly, Carolyn Hester, Stacy Earle, Mark Stuart, Amy Rigby, Tom Russell, Julie Gold and Eric Brace among the contributors.

What a remarkable tribute and such a compelling collection at that.