Of all the major contemporary country folk chanteuses, Patty Griffin is second only to Emmylou Harris in having negotiated the star machinery of Nashville, crossed over to rock and coffeehouse audiences, and adhered to a personal and spiritual vision. Her songs as covered by the Dixie Chicks ("Top of the World," "Let Him Fly") and Martina McBride ("Goodbye"), among other mainstream singers, may be her best-known lyrics, but if you haven't heard her rich, rising alto sing them, you don't really know them at all. This year Griffin released her seventh album, Downtown Church, making explicit what has always been implicit in her art: Her music is faith-based but never fundamentalist, in touch with higher powers, deeper mysteries and an unwavering commitment to craft.
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