Tape is a full-circle moment for Griffin, harkening back to her first album while demonstrating how her craft has lost none of its initial potency or magic.
Since her debut album, the canon-ready Living With Ghosts, was released as just a lightly-tweaked version of her self-recoded demo tape, Patty Griffin’s Tape shouldn’t surprise to the extent that it does. Still, Griffin has been such an aesthetic nomad in the decades since she recorded that first demo that, at this juncture of her storied career, it’s a bit jarring to hear her return to such a DIY sound. Tape, as a collection of previously unreleased demos and rarities, jettisons the densely-layered rock, folk, and gospel flourishes that she has explored — to often brilliant effect — for scratch vocals and simply-strummed and plucked acoustic guitars. Few of the tracks here — “Don’t Mind,” featuring Robert Plant and a full backing band, being the most notable exception — offer more than Griffin’s extraordinary voice and her straightforward guitarwork or piano-playing. The stripped-down aesthetic is well-matched to the simplicity of these particular songs. “Get Lucky” coasts on a scratchy blues riff and Griffin’s not-entirely-hopeful plea for better fortunes, while “Night” hinges on a set of striking images (“Night, you come and sing the songs/Of birds that have no eyes”) that linger over just a few haunting piano chords. Not every singer-songwriter trades in the type of material — or sings so well — that lends itself so readily to such a bare-bones approach. But the nearly a capella “Kiss Of A Man” is so robust and distinctive of a narrative that it simply doesn’t need more than what’s here. Tape, to that end, is something of a full-circle moment for Griffin, harkening back to her first album while demonstrating how her craft has lost none of its initial potency or magic.
Published as part of Album Roundup — June 2022 | Part 2.