Award-winning guitarist Pete Kennedy has been playing on and off with singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith since 1991. Last year he brought his portable studio to her Nashville home and helped to make her most personal, powerful album in 25 years, “Intersection.” The unhurried, unforced singing and the stripped-down, understated arrangements allow Griffith to relax and reveal more feeling than she has in a long time.
Those feelings, though, are anything but laid-back. “I’ve had a hard life,” she sings on the melancholy title track, “and I write it down.” The first single, “H--- No (I’m Not Alright),” is a lean, wiry rockabilly romp that spits out the title line at an ex-lover. Its rousing refusal to pretend everything is okay has already made the song a live-concert singalong for everyone dissatisfied with his or her lover, employer, banker or congressman.
Griffith is more explicit about her dissatisfaction with the larger social milieu on “Bethlehem Steel,” a lovely but anguished elegy for a shuttered steel mill and everything it represents. “Bad Seed,” another lively rockabilly tune, is a cathartic eruption of resentment toward her father. The eight originals (including a minimalist, much-improved reworking of 1991’s “Just Another Morning Here”) are joined by a keening ballad vocal on Blaze Foley’s “If I Could Only Fly” and a redemptive, banjo-driven version of Loretta Lynn’s “High on a Mountain Top.”
Nanci Griffith performs at the Birchmere tonight at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are sold out.