Griffith covers bases in concert
Harborlights, Boston, Sept. 13, 1997
BOSTON - Nanci Griffith has "enjoyed" a history of usually putting out quality albums, but never quite reaching beyond a decently sized cult audience.
That may be unlikely to change with her new album, "Blue Roses From a Moon." And that also likely will be the case in the Boston area - a stronghold for the Texan - despite a winning performance Saturday at Harborlights before an enthusiastic crowd of 3,200.
Griffith, who started in country, but has steadily evolved into more of a folk/singer-songwriter, came across as a confident, comfortable performer in a concert combining those two genres plus the country/rockabilly potpourri of Buddy Holly.
Griffith, who played two sets, mixed it up musically between usually soft, very spare ballads and midtempo songs. Just when a feeling of sameness could have set in, Griffith smartly changed gears to keep the proceedings interesting.
And she did not forget her Texas roots either. Griffith launched into Townes Van Zandt's "Tecumseh Valley," praising the late, greatly praised singer, before launching into "She Ain't Goin' Nowhere," a Guy Clark song, from "Blue Roses."
While she certainly can't match Clark's gruff vocal quality, she did manage to reach for the emotional despair of the woman who "ain't goin' nowhere/she's just leavin'."
Perhaps the highlight was her reading of "From a Distance," which Griffith recorded for her "Lone Star State of Mind" disc and was a huge hit for Bette Midler. Griffith, in one of many asides to the fans, said she hadn't played it for awhile until doing so the previous night in New York City. She apparently liked what she heard in the Big Apple because she certainly gave the song a heartfelt reading Saturday.
Helping Griffith was her backing band the Blue Moon Orchestra. This will be the last tour with Griffith and the orchestra.
And that will be music's loss because the backing group particularly sparked by keyboardist James Hooker, lead guitarist Doug Lancio and acoustic guitarist/backing vocalist Lee Satterfield set the right tone throughout the show. Hooker also contributed many backing vocals, providing a sharp contrast to Griffith's very feminine voice.
Also lending a hand were The Crickets. Yep. The very same group that backed up the late Buddy Holly in the 1950's. They, of course, gave a very different sound sonically with Sonny Curtis's sharp guitar playing possessing a bit of a 1950's sound. One of the highlights was when The Crickets returned to the stage towards the end of Griffith's second set for a duet on "Walk Right Back," a 1962 hit for The Everlys. The song will be on Griffith's "Other Voices II" due out next summer.
The Crickets, who should have a disc coming out soon, played both separately and with Griffith. In effect, the quartet is a Buddy Holly tribute band. Curtis's voice was a bit on the thin side, but the band really seemed to enjoy their stint alone and together with Griffith and did not seem in it for the click of the cash register.
Give Griffith credit for selecting The Crickets. She paid homage to them further with the closing song of her regular set, "This Heart," a song from her "Flyer" CD penned as a tribute to Holly and the The Crickets, and the opening encore of "Well...All Right" from the "not fade away" Buddy Holly tribute CD.
Griffith, 43, may never reach the huge, massive audience of many other singers. But that will never diminish the quality of the body of her work or concert efforts.