Servant of Love marks what is perhaps the biggest departure in Patty Griffin‘s nearly two decades of recording – 2010’s gospel-inspired album Downtown Church notwithstanding, as it consisted mostly of covers. Like that one, however, this record incorporates older musical styles that result in a more vintage sound than most of her discography.
From the get-go, Patty jumps right in to a slow burning jazz number on the title track backed only by piano and Ephraim Owens‘ trumpet. From there, her and Owens jump into the swinging Gunpowder, and by the fourth song, the blues have set in on Hurt A Little While as she tries to convince us, and herself, of what she sings: “one of these days/I’m gonna smile.”
Love and relationships are common themes in Patty’s lyrics, but they always seem to come from far away or long ago. On Servant Of Love, there’s something different. Maybe it’s her recent somewhat-public relationship with Robert Plant that likely had a hand in the crafting of some of these lyrics. They feel fresh. She sounds defeated but not self-deprecating. It’s as if she’s accepted defeat, made the retreat, and is moving on, but not truly letting go.
This is something that comes through as Patty sings over the often sparse music and production of Jay Joyce and Craig Ross, both of whom worked on Silver Bell‘s 2013 release. As only several songs on the record contain drums, most consist only of Patty’s vocals with guitar or piano and accompanying bass or trumpet. This minimal sound further brings out the sound of defeat in Patty’s voice and evokes the loneliness of Owens’ trumpet.
The record comes to a halt on You Never Asked Me, the second last track that essentially serves as the reason the first 11 exist – to have something to lead up to. The lyrics hit deep with every utter of “I might have told you that/if you’d have asked me,” and the world-altering lengths one might go to find happiness in love, all the while knowing it isn’t possible. The tragedy of the song is in the resigning of love, where even regrets no longer matter.
And thank you Ms. Griffin for not ending the album on that note. The last track, Shine A Different Way, exists in direct contrast of it, from the lyrics singing of accepting whatever may come next, to the hopeful sound of the accordion in lieu of the harsher trumpet. It’s a song that comes out of hitting rock-bottom and finding the desire to re-emerge and start trying again. The musical equivalent of the sun rise after the worst night. Following the devastating You Never Asked Me, Shine A Different Way comes as a welcome sigh of relief that all may not be well right now, but at least it’s looking forward.
Despite the depths on display in Servant of Love, the replay value isn’t particularly high compared to most of Patty’s discography. Where her albums tend to carry introspective melodies and lyrics across a spectrum of feelings and emotions, this one focuses more on capturing a mood that isn’t suitable for just anytime. But that doesn’t diminish its ability to make you feel whatever it is Patty wants you to feel when hearing it. Her ability to capture is as strong as ever.
1. Servant of Love
3. Good And Gone
4. Hurt A Little While
5. 250,000 Miles
6. Made Of The Sun
7. Everything’s Changed
8. Rider Of Days
9. There Isn’t One Way
10. Noble Ground
11. Snake Charmer
12. You Never Asked Me
13. Shine A Different Way