Mary Chapin Carpenter recently called Patty Griffin "one of the most eloquent and gifted artists in contemporary music today." That bit of ultra-high praise adorned a promotional card handed out at Griffin's show at the Birchmere on Tuesday night, where the Austin-based singer-songwriter played a set that seemed to corroborate Carpenter's blurb.
Griffin's two-hour show was a model of songcraft, brimming with her precisely detailed creations that she and her four-piece band rendered with appropriately subtle folk, country and blues colorations. Subtle, because Griffin's words and melodies are so strong that little else is needed to flesh them out, and the sold-out crowd hung on each vocal with reverence.
The show was based on Griffin's sterling 2002 album "1000 Kisses" -- songs like "Long Ride Home," "Be Careful," "Rain" and "Chief" were by turns wistful and gripping -- but the redheaded Maine native explored new territory as well, putting a series of solo numbers (accompanying herself on piano) directly in the middle of her set. Though these weren't as stellar as her renditions of songs like the Dylanesque "Flaming Red," "Top of the World" (recently covered by the Dixie Chicks), the moving "Mary" and her cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Stolen Car," the sheer power of her singing prevailed.
Guitarist Doug Lancio played with exemplary empathy throughout and proved an effective bandleader when, at the conclusion of an encore that featured a stirring "Let Him Fly," he swerved into "Tony" after Griffin broke a guitar string, writing a rousing conclusion to the set.
-- Patrick Foster