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Nanci Griffith : Ruby’s Torch

It’s been three decades since honey-voiced hybrid Nanci Griffith packed up her guitar and her distinctive Texan twang and headed to Nashville, transforming herself into what Rolling Stone aptly described as “the queen of folkabilly.” Since those long-ago days of great Griffith scrappin’ and hurtin’ tunes like “Lone Star State of Mind” and “Ford Econoline,” her powerhouse voice has significantly mellowed and deepened. As a result, the timing is perfect for Griffith to temporarily put her guitar aside, fill the recording studio with strings (plus, of course, her stalwart sidekicks, the Blue Moon Orchestra, who have been with her since 1986) and indulge in what amounts to 45 minutes of gorgeously rendered torch singing. Apart from a heartbreakingly lovely “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” superb enough to rival Sinatra’s defining version, Griffith’s imaginatively eclectic choices favor more contemporary material, including a trio of Tom Waits treasures (to wrap yourself in Griffith’s “Please Call Me, Baby” is to know what inspired interpretation is all about), Jimmy Webb’s “If These Walls Could Speak” and the Nashville staple “When I Dream” (best known from Crystal Gale’s cream-filled version, but invested by Griffith with the wistful pain that the lyric demands and requires).

Most stirring, though, particularly for those of us who have followed Griffith’s musical curves throughout the past three decades, are the profoundly beautiful reworkings of two of her finest compositions: the incisively compassionate “Brave Companion of the Road” and her harrowing ode to emotional isolation, “Late Night Grande Hotel.”

Originally Published