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Patty Griffin: Downtown Church

Something about recording in a church seems to raise musicians’ level of focus. It’s almost as if they become more aware that someone might be paying attention. Patty Griffin’s first gospel album, Downtown Church, was recorded in a historic Nashville place of worship, with the aid of producer Buddy Miller and a band of veteran Music Row players, and it’s an unusually focused, contemplative record, even though Griffin’s choice of material reflects her status as a self-described “lapsed Catholic.” Downtown Church includes gospel classics like “If I Had My Way” and “Wade In The Water,” alongside aspirational rockabilly rave-ups like “Move Up,” but Griffin balances the expected with unconventional songs like the rowdy “I Smell A Rat,” the funereal “Death’s Got A Warrant,” and the Latin acoustic ballad “Virgen De Guadalupe.” Though heartfelt, Downtown Church comes off as a little generic at times, landing squarely in the well-stocked category of “tasteful, intelligent, unruffled roots music.” But the Griffin-penned “Little Fire” and “Coming Home To Me”—both of which deal with the power of faith from multiple angles—frame the rest of the songs elegantly, while conveying her wariness. When Downtown Church ends with the lovely traditional hymn “All Creatures Of Our God And King,” the power of the sentiment and of Griffin’s voice carries its own pure quality, comforting to believers and skeptics alike.


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