The Austin Chronicle

Patty Griffin – The Paramount’s Aural Blade

By Jim Caligiuri, September 24, 2015, 11:55am, Earache!

Opened on Congress Avenue 100 years ago, the Paramount Theatre now counts among the oldest continuously running operations of its kind in the country. Festivities marked the centennial this year, but none with the visuals of Wednesday night’s Relighting of the Blade. The blade is the vertical sign above the marquee that lights up with the theatre’s name.

A shiny new replica of the original blade, lost more than 50 years ago, was lit for the first time last night, with Congress Avenue closed for a massive party featuring VIPs and the New Breed Brass band.

Inside, Oklahoma’s John Moreland opened a special night of songs with a set heavily drawn from his latest album, High On Tulsa Heat, one of the best pure singer-songwriter discs of the year. Moreland’s a big man with a mighty beard. So big, in fact, that a guitar looks undersized in his hands.

His stories come well-crafted, melodies shining brightly and smart turns of phrase at every juncture. And yet, his subject matter is gritty and real. Ironically, what he called his “happy song” came with title “Nobody Gives A Damn About Songs Anymore.”

That the audience seemed rapt and appreciative throughout came as a testament to Moreland’s talents and a crowd hungry for mastercraft compositions.

Patty Griffin sprang onstage in a checkerboard-patterned suit eager to share the songs on her 10th album, Servant of Love, which hits streets Friday. While the new material was unfamiliar to most, during her 75 minutes plus two encores onstage it flowed with profound ease. Long ago, Griffin transitioned from solemn singer-songwriter to Americana chanteuse comfortable with blues, gospel, roots-rock, and Celtic folk.

At one point, she claimed nervousness, yet the entire performance was one of her trademark earnest emotions and solid musicianship.

David Pulkingham on guitar, Billy Harvey on bass and electric keyboard, and Conrad Choucroun on drums, ukulele, and bass – among Austin’s best players – backed Griffin with precision, making the grooves snake, shake, and roll. Ephraim Owens added trumpet on Servant of Love’s title track, a hair-raising wail live, with Griffin at a grand piano and Pulkingham adding guitar. Album producer Craig Ross handled bass and Austin’s lovable Scrappy Jud Newcomb provided guitar on “Hurt A Little While,” which caught fire in a manner that recalled another redhead, Bonnie Raitt. The song’s sweet and dirty blues demonstrated uncommon swagger.

The highlight occurred with Griffin again at the piano, singing what she called “my favorite song right now.” It’s a tune she learned from author James Baldwin’s rendition on YouTube, although Elvis Presley recorded it as well. Traditional gospel tune “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” played out with just the right amount of devotion, and like most of the rest of the new album, its plea for redemption in a time of seeming hopelessness proved cathartic.

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