Griffith: Making Folk Music Popular Again

Article excerpt

IN singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith's publicity material, she is careful to include the fact that she has embarked on a self-determined mission ". . .to make the `F' word popular again." "F" as in folk, that is. And the success of her latest album, "Other Voices, Other Rooms" barings her one step closer to that goal.

After 15 years as a recording act, Griffith has chosen her debut on Elektra Records to look back at her songwriting roots and document some of the songwriters that have influenced her career. "Other Voices, Other Songs" brims with melodies and lyrics that may have escaped most of the record-buying masses, but hold special significance for the Austin-born singer.

Starting with a list of about 300 songs, Griffith began a painstaking process of choosing what she considered to be appropriate material for the project. She hoped to document every era of folk music, beginning with "Are You Tired of Me Darling?," a Carter Family treasure dating back to 1877, and ending with present-day masters of the idiom such as John Prine.

The title, "Other Rooms, Other Voices," was borrowed from Truman Capote's 1948 novel. But the other voices included on the album are also significant.

Griffith's close friend, Emmylou Harris turns up to sing harmony on "Across the Great Divide," and Bob Dylan, himself, blows haunting harmonica on his '60s era love song "Boots of Spanish Leather." The most important "other voice," however, belongs to Carolyn Hester, a woman whose work inspired Griffith to take up music in the first place.

As a young girl in Austin, Griffith's transistor radio was a ticket to a world beyond a middle-class Texas world. It was possible in those days to hear songs by Hester, back-to-back with those of Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley. Consequently, at age 8, after hearing Hester's music, Griffith picked up her first acoustic guitar and never looked back.

In her teen years, she found herself playing in rock bands, usually singing harmonies on Grateful Dead material and the like. …