On her 19th album, and her first of mostly new material in half a decade, Nanci Griffith seems to have found topics urgent enough to overcome her writer’s block and return to her folkish/country roots. The album’s title cut is indicative of what’s on Griffith’s mind these days. “The Loving Kind” is a midtempo narrative ballad about Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple whose landmark Supreme Court case ended the ban on interracial marriage. Given the current controversy over gay marriage, its theme is especially poignant. Griffith’s writing is spot-on, demonstrating her ability to accent the notion that love itself is the hallmark of justice. Featuring Barry Walsh on accordion and Fats Kaplin's fiddle, the song, despite its large historical context, is brought to the listener in a small intimate way, as if it were a story being told in a living room between friends. “Money Changes Everything” is self-evident by its title, with some gorgeous guitar work by Thomm Jutz and Kaplin’s mandolin. “One of These Days,” with a harmony vocal by Todd Snider, is a reprise of a track on Last of the True Believers. Its subject is the homesickness felt by a native Texan living in New York. There is a tribute to Townes Van Zandt entitled “Up Against the Rain,” with lilting fiddles, pedal steel, and acoustic guitars. “Still Life” is a scathing song about George W. Bush, though it never addresses him by name. That said, it also exhorts the listener to gaze into the mirror of self-examination. “Cotton” is about LBJ’s social conscience but also addresses larger environmental concerns. Its languid pace, Celtic melody, and gorgeous interplay of strings compensate for some of the heavy-handed lyrics. There’s also an anti-death penalty song called “Not Innocent Enough," which deals with the case of Phillip Workman, who was executed for a botched robbery and the murder of a policeman, though evidence suggested it was another policeman's gun rather than his own that committed the killing. Steve Earle, Elizabeth Cook, and Mary Gauthier add backing vocals, while John Prine contributes a spoken word coda. “Things I Don’t Need” is a rather preachy song about materialism, but has a fine backing vocal by James Taylor. The set ends with two excellent drinking songs in the grand Lone Star State tradition. The first, “Tequila After Midnight,” written by Dee Moeller, is a killer country dance tune -- i.e., Texas two step. And “Pour Me a Drink" is a classic honky tonk ballad in the Ray Price tradition. Despite a few missteps, The Loving Kind is a solid effort. Griffith is back as a songwriter, with her trademark literary and emotional sensibilities balanced by a keen sense of melody and (mostly) lyrical aplomb.
The Loving Kind Review
by Thom Jurek