Title - ‘Passing Through’ (Blix Street)
Artist - Grace Griffith
The plight of Washington, DC-area vocalist Grace Griffith is definitely one for conversation, but who would have thought it would make for a great album. The truth is, as she does not hide it and wears it on her sleeve permanently; a testament to her undying persistence to never let it control her life in any quarter, Griffith has battled Parkinson’s Disease for 17 years now.
Indeed, this near twenty year battle with Parkinson’s threatened more than once to derail this beautiful new album over the course of the past two years or more. Just recording it was a major hurdle for Griffith, for all the writing and orchestrations were done long before her vocals were required. The record’s producer, Chris Biondo, who also produced and performed with the late Eva Cassidy provided his studio to Griffith and even encouraged her to work whenever she felt she could over those two or more years.
The result is an album that combines a stunning voice with a haunting collection of folk and Celtic material that once you begin to play you never wish it to end. The album begins with piano-fused ‘Brigid’s Shield,’ a song originally written by Susan Graham White back in 1988. The loving additional touch here on Passing Through though is that Griffith makes this a new duet with White. Which also marked a reunion for the pair who had performed together as the duo Hazlewood in the late 1980‘s. That then blends beautifully into the solo acoustic capella nuance of ‘The Wood Thrush’s Song’ (Laurie Lewis), ‘Bridget O’Malley’ (Traditional), and then the acoustic guitar of Richard Miller leads us into the popular ‘Nature Boy’ (Eden Ahbez).
The joyous ‘Loud Are The Bells of Norwich’ is next and is based on a prayer by Julian of Norwich. Indeed, it was written by English poet Sydney Carter’s in 1981 and is simply divine to hear in this new form. Then we get a previously-recorded, but unreleased track cover of the fantastic Emmylou Harris track, ‘Cup of Kindness.’ Originally inspired by the famous Robert Burns poem Auld Lang Syne, it comes complete with delicate, perfect acoustic guitar work from Al Petteway and is one of the true highlights of this just-perfect album. The spirit of Griffiths’ soul ebbs further out to us on Jennifer Cutting’s poignant poem, ‘The Leaves of Autumn,’ before the more traditional, albeit short ‘Down by the Sally Gardens.’ A poem written by William Butler Yeats, it features some delightful Celtic Harp work from Sue Richards.
Blessed with an ethereal, crystalline soprano that informs and welcomes in equal amounts, this album that addresses universal themes of love and compassion, connection and community, spirituality and earthly determination continues onwards with Paul Nahay’s welcoming piano intro to the previously-recorded, but unreleased ‘Deep in the Darkest Night’ (Rick Kemp). Complete with accordion work from Billy McComisky, halfway through Griffith even slips momentarily into true Gaelic vocals, before moving on through to the upbeat Anne Lister-written ‘May Morning.’ The last two songs are both more previously-recorded, but unreleased tracks: ‘Way of the World’ (Tom Prasada-Rao) and then, finally, the traditional ‘I Wish My Love Was A Red Rose.’ The latter containing exquisite whistle and bouzouki work from Marcy Marxer. The bonus track is ‘Water, Fire and Some,’ a Betsy Rose track with arrangement and piano from Nahay, once more.
Another bonus to this new CD is the actual CD packaging! A digi pak that is as glossy as they come (never seen one glossier!) it also contains a full color, highly-informative 5-page center spread. It tells the story of how it all musically began for Griffith, showcases her prior albums and even provides woodland photos of her home.
Regardless of the back story of Griffith, of her deteriorating physical condition, this singer/songwriter with a 30 plus year history within the business has brought forth one of the best albums of 2014. And I for one hope that she can bring us more music like this, for she has definitely brought forth a rainbow in the grey sky of an industry seemingly happy with being stagnant and stale.
Reviewed by: Russell A. Trunk