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Renaissance woman Griffin shows musical diversity; Millsap scores in debut

House of Blues, Boston, June 10, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Think of Patty Griffin as a renaissance woman when it comes to her artistic tastes. Folk, country, blues, gospel and some rock are all part of the Griffin concert equation, and she showed that she was adept at all of them.

At 50, Griffin has never enjoyed what anyone would call a hit single. She's had 4 record labels release her 8 studio discs since 1996. And two of the releases - "American Kid" and "Silver Bell" - were both out last year with "Silver Bell" finally out only 13 years after it was recorded in New Orleans.

Like Emmylou Harris, who Griffin sometimes recalls, the emphasis for Griffin is on her very ample voice. There's a lot of color to her fabric of songs with the emphasis clearly on her delivery. Sometimes she's vulnerable, sometimes more on the throaty side, sometimes the folk singer.

The Maine native's vocal prowess probably came through most clearly during a gospel song she sang from her "Downtown Church" disc from 2010. Griffin prefaced it by saying that she was not particularly into the gospel thing and the "patriarchal" tone she felt existed.

If she did think that way, it certainly did not seem to dent her abilities one iota in covering Dorothy Love Coates' "The Strange Man."

Griffin, a former Boston resident, who left 20 years ago for Austin, recalled her Beantown days fondly from the get go. She cited her various jobs held during her stint here including answering phones at "495-1000" as a Harvard University operator and a sales person at Talbot's clothing store, although Griffin claimed they couldn't wait fast enough for her to be done with her temp job there.

The regular working world may not have been for her, but Griffin sure showed that she's quite fine with where she's at musically.

There was more to Griffin than her voice and local ties. She employed a stellar trio behind her, including John Deadrick on drums, piano and accordion; David Pulkingham, who was super all night on guitar, and Craig Ross, who produces Griffin, on bass. The band often stayed in the background, although Pulkingham knew how to take over a song for short bursts without necessarily resorting to volume and/or speed to do the trick.

Griffin often has followed her musical muse as this evening showed. Smart move because no matter what the style, Griffin was way more than up to the task.

Opener Parker Millsap has been building his young career quickly - he's released 2 albums (one with bassist Michael Rose) and is 21 Singing with a bit of a gritty, weathered voice, Millsap gathered steam as he went along in his mix of bluesy, country and roots. He particularly was effective on the very well received "Heaven Sent," about a gay son and his tough father. This, like other songs, showed Millsap to be a sharp observer with the ability to turn a good phrase. Religion - Millsap grew up, but no longer is involved in, the Pentecostal church - was prominent in several songs, including "Truck Stop Gospel" about a Bible seller.

Millsap's turn of the phrase also was clear on "Quite Contrary" a song that Millsap explained was about unemployed fairy tale characters who have to turn to selling drugs to make a go of it.

Millsap began the song with the lines "Mary Mary quite contrary/how did you get eyes so scary?" Funny, yet quite inventive.

Millsap, making his Boston debut, is touring as a trio with Daniel Foulks, spiriting along the songs on fiddle, and high school friend Michael Rose on bass. This was an easy going, relaxed show as Rose and Foulks (touted as the lone Eagle Scout and college graduate in the group) were unafraid to offer comments as well.

Millsap showed himself to be deserving of the praise he's been receiving.