Dave Matthews, while not one of your humble scribe’s favorite artist, has earned my undying respect for single-handedly trying to bring back the concept of real A&R. You know the kind that signs artist because they might actually be good, even if they don’t come with a marketing plan or a pre-existing data base.
Coming out of the pen with a rootsy sound reminiscent of the T-Bone Burnett/Buddy Miller axis of natural sounds from a time that never really was, it is hard not to appreciate the ease with which Patty Griffin’s Downtown Church hits all the aural base points that we have come to expect from this group of talented artists. It’s swampy, Southern, it’s moving and it’s real. And the guest list of Julie Miller, Raul Malo, Emmylou Harris, and The McCrarys are all put to good use.
Now, here’s the one slightly different twist: Ms. Griffin has built her reputation on the absolute quality and brilliance of her songwriting, and on Downtown Church there is only one artist-penned track. So, how do you feel about hipster-imbued gospel country? There are definitely some sublime moments on this record, not least of which is “All Creatures Of Our God & King,” which if you don’t feel some stirrings of human grace, you might need to check your pulse.
However, if you do check this out, be prepared for a faith-based experience. We are not in the least questioning why the Griffin made this piece of work, but just be aware that this is albeit funky, but definitely, gospel music. You ok with that? Then fine. If you are looking for Patty Griffin’s acclaimed writing, then move on.