Nanci Griffith - The Complete MCA Studio Recordings

Nanci Griffith
The Complete MCA Studio Recordings


First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10

Written by John Metzger


It’s hard to believe that Nanci Griffith has been recording for 25 years, but indeed, that has been the case. After several independent efforts, she scored her first major label contract with MCA Records, where she crafted four studio albums between 1987 and 1991. Each of these outings recently was remastered and reissued along with three bonus tracks on a specially priced two-disc set titled The Complete MCA Studio Recordings. Though none of the song cycles recorded for MCA was a masterpiece by any stretch — her second outing Little Love Affairs came the closest — there were plenty of terrific tunes scattered throughout them.

Perhaps the most interesting part of The Complete MCA Studio Recordings is the way that it shows Griffith’s attempts to find her niche, first within mainstream Nashville, then as a contemporary pop artist. She never fully succeeded in either genre, but the elements of both sides of this equation pervade all four of these outings, proving that the transition wasn’t quite as sudden as some originally may have thought. However, this comprehensive collection also demonstrates how perplexing Griffith’s early work was. She was just as capable of delivering stunning ballads (Gulf Coast Highway), breezy Joni Mitchell-infused folk-pop (One Blade Shy of a Sharp Edge), and haunting odes to failing farms (Trouble in the Fields) or of covering tunes by such notables as Tom Waits (San Diego Serenade), Robert Earl Keen (I Would Change My Lie and Sing One for Sister), and John Stewart (Sweet Dreams Will Come) as she was to tackle Julie Gold’s generic, Disney-like offerings (From a Distance and Heaven). Yet, no matter how airy and precious the arrangements became — her final MCA outing Late Night Grand Hotel was closer to the ’80s work of Jackson Browne and Bruce Hornsby than to the roots-oriented country-folk where she began — Griffith at least had the songwriting talent on which to fall back. It was her astute attention to detail that allowed her to pen the type of lyrics that resonate with such emotional turbulence as to cut through the glossy, often overbearing, production and touch the hearts and souls of her fans and fellow musicians. starstarstar ½

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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