The beloved singer-songwriter crafts a melodic tribute to her father

“When I was younger, I could dive headfirst into writing about things like I knew a lot about them,” says Patty Griffin. She pauses, then laughs, “Now I realize I don’t know anything about anything.” Considering the singer-songwriter’s poetic and revealing lyrics have led artists like Emmylou Harris and the Dixie Chicks to record her material, many would disagree.

Her seventh studio album, American Kid, is dedicated to the memory of her father—a World War II veteran and the son of Irish immigrants. “I didn’t decide to make a record in honor of him,” says Griffin, 49. “But I think the songs turned out that way. A lot were written while I was getting ready for him to go, and some were written in the aftermath of him going. After a while, I felt like it all went back to him.”

American Kid is composed of all original material save for a 60-year-old song by Lefty Frizzell, an artist whom Griffin fell in love with while driving across Texas’ ocean of open space. “Lefty was a bit of a wild child, but he had this tender spot for his parents,” she says. “It’s pretty rare to hear a song like ‘Mom and Dad’s Waltz,’ which is so vulnerable, from anybody in any time period. It’s amazing to express something that intimate.”

Nearly the entire album was recorded in a week with Luther and Cody Dickinson at Zebra Ranch Studio in Memphis. “Having never played with me before, the Dickinson brothers nailed things pretty fast,” says Griffin. “I’m not the most rhythmically steady person; I like playing by myself and following my own drummer. But they did great.”

Most of the songs came together easily in the studio, says Griffin, save one: “‘Irish Boy’ lingered. I couldn’t get it, and I was ready to give up, but [co-producer] Craig Ross kept pushing me. I finally finished it while we were mixing the record in Nashville. Craig called and said, ‘You know it’s St. Patrick’s Day, right?’”

Seventeen years after the release of her debut album, Living With Ghosts, Griffin remains a fearless writer. “It took a lot of courage for me, more courage than I had when I started, to keep at it,” she says. “It meant working when there was no sign of anything coming from it for years. It takes courage now—sometimes I find it hard to see how I’ll fit into the future. But I love it and I’m good at what I do. I figured that out, and I’m proud of that.”

–Juli Thanki


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