Patty Griffin

Downtown Church (Credential)

Texas Platters

Patty Griffin

Downtown Church (Credential)

After hinting at an affection for gospel music on 2007's Children Running Through, her hugely successful last disc, and recording a duet with Mavis Staples on last year's gospel celebration/compilation Oh Happy Day, Patty Griffin delivers a collection of spiritual moments with Downtown Church. The title refers to the album being recorded at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, and with her guitarist friend Buddy Miller in the producer's chair, it's another step forward for Griffin the singer. Miller's near perfect in this role; his own LPs always flirt with gospel. But his trademark echo and roar allow Griffin's voice to shine in ways that are dynamic and exhilarating. Covering tunes from the tradition as well as Hank Williams, Big Mama Thornton, and even St. Francis of Assisi, the flame-haired Austin diva stretches into unfamiliar territory. Belying her Yankee roots, Griffin belts and croons like a Texas blues mama on the familiar "Wade in the Water" and the obscure "I Smell a Rat." There's also traditional church fare like the solemn set closer "All Creatures of Our God and King." Griffin could have skated on the success of her last effort, but Downtown Church is a gutsy move, one that's as haunting and original as anything in her past. (Patty Griffin and Jack Ingram headline the Grounded in Music fundraiser at the Paramount Theatre, Thursday, Jan. 21.)

***.5

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