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Sid Griffin

The Trick is to Breathe – 2014 (Prima)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Sid Griffin

Singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, biographer and bandleader Sid Griffin has been plying his craft for the better part of 30 years, helming such bands as The Long Ryders and the Coal Porters, as well as proceeding on his own. Yet, in many ways, he's never neglected his roots and those forebears who inspired him early on - Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan and The Band. He's so intent on offering homage in fact that he's dedicated entire albums to covering the works of Messers Clark and Hillman and has authored lengthy tomes on Dylan and Parsons in particular. Yet, Griffin is clearly moved by far more than mere scholarly pursuits, and each of the albums he's been involved in reflect an astute enthusiasm for roots music in all its forms.

Not surprisingly then, "The Trick Is To Breathe," Griffin's latest individual outing - and only his third solo studio album overall - finds him offering a reverent nod to past precedents, with ample samplings of bluegrass, country rock and subdued ballads flush full of meditative musings. The melodies mostly take their cues from the sensual, supple sway of Griffin's vocals (which evokes an overtly soft pop sound a la Al Stewart or Stephen Bishop) and tasteful arrangements that make ample use of banjo, mandolin, fiddle and Dobro. Griffin is first and foremost a storyteller, whether he's alluding to backstage mishaps ("Ode to Bobbie Gentry"), subdued soldier stories ("Between the General & the Grave," "Everywhere") and a spoken dialogue about the apparent anger generated from a harrowing musical haunt ("Punk Rock Club").

Mainly though, Griffin chooses to navigate through familiar Americana environs, proving that whether he's with or without his compatriots he's clearly on firm footing. If indeed the key to existence is simply the ability to breathe, then clearly Griffin's effectively inhaled some highly potent influences.