Singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith passed away Friday at the age of 68. Not only did she write some amazing, and amazingly literate songs — like four minute novels — she also had the voice of an angel. Her singing and writing skills would be enough for most, but she also was a brilliant interpreter of other folk’s songs… the best proof is her Grammy-winning Other Voices Other Rooms album from 1993 where she covered such luminaries as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and John Prine… and did their songs justice. It’s also worth noting that she was the person to record Julie Gold’s “From a Distance”… a more bombastic (and inferior, IMHO) version became a big hit for Bette Midler years later.
That pattern of other folks having bigger hits with the same songs was part of Nanci’s lot in life. Kathy Mattea covered “Love at the Five and Dime” and Suzy Bogguss hit the country Top 10 with Nanci’s “Outbound Plane.” She was too folk for country, and too country for folk.
She told Rolling Stone in 1993 that “the radio person at MCA Nashville told me that I would never be on radio because my voice hurt people’s ears.”From the New York Times obit here
Her live ’88 album One Fair Summer Evening was my gateway to the magical stories that Nanci could weave. I was working at a commercial country music station at the time, and the album was in the throwaway pile. If you ask me, it would’ve been better to take 99% of the stuff the station was playing and throw it away, and play that album on repeat.
She didn’t shy away from social commentary either. Check out “Trouble in the Fields” or “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go” or “Deadwood, South Dakota” (videos below).
A brilliant songwriter in her own right, she was always willing to shine a light on others. I saw her in concert a handful of times, and if she covered someone else’s music, she was sure to credit them and promote them. Other songwriters loved her as well.
She was then afforded the special compliment of being asked by Bob Dylan to perform his “Boots Of Spanish Leather,” which she’d recorded on Other Voices, Other Rooms, at his anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden in 1992.From this appreciation on Yahoo: A Light Beyond These Woods: An Appreciation Of Nanci Griffith (yahoo.com)
Nanci was basically retired from music – her last album came out in 2012. But her influence is still strong. R.I.P. Nanci Griffith – folks like you come along only once in a very blue moon.