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Griffin raises the stakes (most of the time)

House of Blues, Boston, June 6, 2010

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Patty Griffin wondered aloud why a Catholic with Canadian roots would record a gospel album in Nashville. "Because I was asked to," Griffin told the crowd.

Apparently that was good enough for the red head, who showed she was no dabbler when "Downtown Church" was released earlier this year. With Buddy Miller producing, Griffin, known as more of a rootsy/folk-flavored performer and an excellent songwriter, clearly showed she was up to snuff.

Griffin pretty much indicated the same over the course of her 100-minute show where her ultra-fine voice was her calling card. She appeared and sounded comfortable on the gospel tunes along with shows from her playbook. Griffin benefited from an exceptionally strong backing band speared by Doug Lancio on guitar, who took the leads throughout, and John Deadrick on keyboards.

Griffin served up a large chunk of "Downtown Church," and she had good reason to do so. The songs tended to sound very lively and showcased her vocals. Standouts included Never Grow Old and We Shall All Be Reunited and the traditional, high energy of If I Had My Way.

There were no big highs or lows during the concert (except perhaps for a few appearances from Shawn Colvin, who came onstage shortly after landing at the airport and coming straight to the gig), but one apparent consequence was that the crowd (not particularly large to begin with) thinned out over time. Perhaps a stripped down acoustic segment lasted too long and brought down the energy level too much - until the encore anyway. Every song by and large worked on its own, but there was no particular build to the evening.

The encore was strong with I Smell a Rat from the new disc, Up to the Mountain (MLK Song), a tribute to Martin Luther King, and fittingly a duet with Miller, Wind Me Up closing out the night. Unlike other portions of Griffin's set, when Griffin raised the stakes a bit, the energy level went a lot higher and so did the satisfaction level.

Miller opened the evening with a very very strong 40-minute set. Miller, who certainly has made his mark as a producer and player (he was in Alison Krauss and Robert Plant's touring band), was a very fine guitar player whether on acoustic or electric. The good-natured, humorous Miller did justice to the soulful, rootsy and country songs ranging from the opening That's How I Got to Memphis to Gasoline and Matches with help from Griffin. Miller was a jack-of-all-trades and did everything well.