Oyster Boy Review 10  
  January 1999
» Cover

» Art
» Poetry
» Fiction
» Essays
» Reviews
» Contributors

» Oyster Boy Review
» Levee 67


Other Voices, Too

Kevin McGowin

  Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful).
Nanci Griffith.
Elektra, 1998.
1 disc, $13.98 (audio-CD).
ISBN: B000007SBD

While 1993's Other Voices, Other Rooms (to which this album is the "sequel") was in my opinion one of the best and freshest folk records of the decade, the present release doesn't even make it to the "also-noted" list. Comprised entirely of covers like the earlier album, and including appearances by the original artists when possible, this one, at nineteen songs and about 1,000 "guests," goes way too far with both. It could be that some of the renditions here are just plain terrible, saturated as they are with as many voices and musicians as the engineers can squeeze in, or it could be that Nanci Griffith's once-full and golden voice is thinning perceptibly; but I tend to think it's something more than even all this, which makes me dislike the album more with each listen, in contrast to Griffith's rather tepid original work on her last two albums which nonetheless are at least pleasing to the ear.

After a while, Nanci's sunny, generous, and slightly naive disposition/posture begins to grate on one's nerves, and as she gets older what once was attractive is now cloying and rings false, especially when it comes to her choice of songs to cover. While most of the songs on Other Voices (the title of which she got from Truman Capote's first novel) were well-suited musically and in feel to her particular style, most of the ones on A Trip Back to Bountiful (which she got from a Horton Foote screenplay) are not, and it doesn't ingratiate listeners that she suggests in her liner notes that we wouldn't even know any of these songs if not for her timely resurrections. Richard Thompson's "Wall of Death," Steven Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More," Woody Guthrie's "Deportee," and a horrid version of Sylvia Fricker's "You Were On My Mind" all fall way short of the emotive impact of the originals, which become even worse when Nanci drags out the elderly writer/performers of such songs as Harlan Howard's "The Streets of Baltimore" or Odetta et. al. on "If I Had a Hammer" to sing along with her, which she doubtlessly means as a tribute but which comes across as horribly patronizing, especially from Griffith, who reminds me either of a hyper preschool teacher or the sentimental activities director of a nursing home.

And then we have songs like Tom Russell's "Canadian Whiskey," which she performs with Ian Tyson. This, like so many other cuts on this album, is not a Holly Hobby Bullshit Pretty-Ass song, but when I hear Nanci do it, she reminds me of various Junior League women my mother hung out with who deigned to do some service work at the Salvation Army once in a while before going back home to eat off the blue-willow china. Ian Tyson's a bit in the background ("Come on up and help sing us one, Grandad, you sweet thang . . .") while Nanci sings it without a shadow of realization that she doesn't know fucking Canadian whiskey, or the pain and loss and injustice reflected in the originals of any of the other songs here, either. She might know a third glass of Chablis after dinner, which she was giddy on when she decided to make this album and thought she could do the songs justice.

She can't, and she doesn't. Nanci surely doesn't see for the life of her just how insulting this all is, but I'm saying she should. Now Ian Tyson, he knows Canadian whiskey and Odetta, she knows some goddamn injustice. I'll just listen to them from now on out, and for Nanci . . . not this time, ya little sweetie.