IN 1992, singer Nanci Griffith took a step back from a 14-year career as a gifted songwriter to make an album filled with her interpretations of 17 songs by writers who had helped influence her own folk-informed style.
The album, "Other Voices, Other Rooms," won Griffith a Grammy Award and was widely acclaimed as one of her most satisfying projects.
Ironically, when Griffith put down her own songwriting pen to immerse herself in the songs of her favorite writers, she made an important discovery - one that helped spur a pronounced shift in Griffith's own music on her 11th and most recent record, "Flyer."
After specializing in songs that featured finely detailed, emotionally engaging stories about fictional characters, Griffith has opened the window to her own world, revealing much about her heart and soul over the course of the 15 highly personal, often moving original songs on "Flyer."
In a recent interview, Griffith explained how the songwriters she paid tribute to on "Other Voices, Other Rooms" changed the way she looked at her own abilities.
"Going back and studying their work, it's all so internal and propelled from inside as well," Griffith said. "Certainly it's never crying-in-your-beer stuff, but it was all very introspective and very helpful to me. And I think that influenced me to go ahead and write personal (songs), even though I'll always be very endeared to my fictional characters."
Another event that helped confirm the new direction in Griffith's writing was a visit to a card reader in New York City during the "Flyer" recording sessions.
"My father had told me, `You've never had a good time in your entire life. You're so intense,' " Griffith said. " `Even when you were a baby you were so intense,' he said.
"And the card reader told me the same thing, not knowing me from Adam. She said, `You've had a really hard life, and you've done a lot of work inside to try and overcome that, but don't you think you ought to have fun now?' "
Finally, Griffith said, she was able to "let go" and begin allowing herself to enjoy the freedom to express her own thoughts and experiences in song when she felt inspired to do so.
Some of Griffith's revelations on "Flyer" will surprise even longtime fans, especially on songs where Griffith, 40, wonders whether her single-minded pursuit of her career has cost her a chance for lasting love.
"Some of the songs are so personal, it's still difficult to perform them," Griffith observed.
"Like `These Days in an Open Book' and `Goodnight to a Mother's Dream' - I think a lot of people were really surprised. They might have thought, `Well, Nanci Griffith should be a really happy person. She's been very successful at the one thing she wanted to do, which was to be a songwriter. She probably has everything she ever wanted in life.'
"And (for me) to voice my insecurity and my grief for having pursued all of those things professionally that I wanted without pursuing anything personal is something that I think a lot of women my age are going through right now."
One song sure to generate curiosity among fans is the title song, "The Flyer," which tells of Griffith's chance meeting with an Air Force pilot at a Pittsburgh airport one day when bad weather had delayed her flight to London. …