Patty Griffin opens her self-titled album singing, "Mama's worried all the time," over Spanish guitar-influenced flourishes, but it's Griffin - not any mama - that sounds constantly worried on it. There are songs like "River," with it's positive praise of a strong woman, but haunting songs, such as "The Wheel," about a black man killed at the hands of a cop, are more the rule than the exception.
Griffin's voice has taken on nearly an elder's tone of experience. On the moody folk-country of "Where I Come From," her singing features a distinctly Emmylou Harris-like soulfulness. Sonically, Griffin puts her somber songs to a wide variety of sonic templates. "Hourglass" stands out most of all, with its gypsy jazz, which includes a trombone part and Django Reinhardt-esque guitar. "Just the Same" replaces the album's various guitar - mostly acoustic guitar - textures, with acoustic piano. "Luminous Places" is also a piano ballad. "Bluebeard" is a spooky Appalachian ballad, which plays out like an authentic mountain song. "The Wheel" is that rare moment where Griffin is backed by fluid bass, electric guitar touches and upfront drumming. It's as close to rock and roll as the album gets and may make you picture what Steve Earle would sound like, if he were a woman, not a man.
It takes a worried (wo)man, to sing a worried a worried song, to twist a familiar folk song lyric, and Griffin sure sounds worried about many things. This may not be the feel-good album of the season, but Griffin nevertheless expresses her dark feelings with plenty of class and style.