Patty Griffin can be a bit morose, a mournful singer who seems reticent to offer any upbeat assessments. Given that MO, it's particularly gratifying to find Griffin's "American Kid" to be a real revelation. While the tone remains similarly downbeat, the album brings with it a new resilience and inherent emotionalism that make these songs incisive even on first hearing. Clearly, Griffin has connected with an exceptional muse.
Loosely framed around sepia-toned themes of family life in the hills and hollows of Appalachia, these songs are touching in their tenderness and moving in their embrace of homespun sentiment. There's an uncommon immediacy that enshrouds such entries like Go Wherever You Wanna Go, Wild Old Dog and Lisa, an affecting feeling that consistently gives pause. The songs are exceptional, even when adhering to their barest constraints. And while she breaks a few barriers - the traditional folk-like sway of Get Ready Marie, the gothic drone of Ohio - a pretty and precious tenderness still proves pervasive overall.
Given its impactful stance, it's little surprise that "American Kid" has secured a place on a number of best-of lists for 2013. That's a notable distinction, and one that's well deserved. "American Kid" is clearly her "Copperhead Road," her "Red Dirt Girl," her "Heart Like a Wheel," her statement on those matters that tug at the heartstrings and resonate instinctively. And while she's set a high bar for future endeavors - a standard that exceeds anything evident in her trajectory thus far - it does bode well for Griffin's work from here on in. Pundits have held her a place in the hierarchy of Americana standard bearers for some time now. With "American Kid," she proves she's earned it.