The release of this retrospective cd coincides with the
singer’s appearance at World Parkinson Congress in Scotland.
SAILING, a new CD retracing the career of Washington, DC-area vocalist
Grace Griffith, was released by Blix Street Records on September 28,
2010. A retrospective collection of 11 songs from a career that spans
more than 20 years and covers the genres of Celtic, contemporary and
traditional folk, SAILING marks yet another milestone for a gifted
singer and musician whose extraordinary voice has earned her a circle
of devoted fans, multiple awards and critical praise.
The release of SAILING coincides with Griffith’s appearance at the
Second World Parkinson’s Congress which took place September 28 through
October 1 in Glasgow, Scotland. Griffith, a former physical therapist
who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease some 13 years ago, has been
active in Parkinson-related groups including The World Parkinson’s
Foundation, APDA and PAN (Parkinson’s Action Network), and has provided
programs to numerous caregivers, health-care professionals and students
throughout the United States. In addition to singing at the opening of
the Congress, she is on the faculty at this year’s gathering and spoke
at a Music & Parkinson’s Disease Workshop on the event’s final day.
The 11 songs on this memorable collection are taken from four of
Griffith’s albums on Blix Street. Three tracks-”Ripples in the
Rockpools/Kiss of the Fiddle,” “Song of the Seals” and “Sailing/Ships
Are Sailing”-first appeared on SIREN SONG (1995), an album recorded
during her years with the Celtic-influenced group Connemara. Seven
tracks are from her solo works: “Wondering Where The Lions Are,” “Bound
By The Beauty” and “Swallow Song” were originally presented on MINSTREL
SONG (2000); “Shape Of My Heart,” “My Life,” and “The Cuckoo” appeared
on MY LIFE (2006), her most recent solo effort; and “Carry You” is from
SANDS OF TIME (2003). The independently-released JOURNEYS (1990), which
she recorded with Susan Graham White as Hazlewood, is the source for
the final track, “The Last Leviathan.”
“The goal,” says Bill Straw, founder and president of the Seattle-based
independent Blix Street Records who compiled and sequenced SAILING,
“was to create a super album that, much like Eva Cassidy’s SONGBIRD
(also on Blix Street), would elevate a relatively unknown artist to her
rightful place among her peers. No one deserves it more than Grace
Griffith.” Straw has had a deep respect for Griffith and her talent, as
well as an appreciation for her musical taste for many years. He signed
her to Blix Street Records in 1995 after first hearing EVERY HUE AND
SHADE, her solo debut which earned her one of her now multiple WAMMIEs,
presented by the Washington Area Music Association. Subsequently, it
was Griffith who first brought the music of her friend Eva Cassidy to
“When I first saw the list of songs chosen for this project,” says
Griffith, “I was surprised and pleased by the amount of research Bill
had put into repertory selection, track sequencing, artwork and all the
other details. The material covers a span of time beginning with my
teenage years, when most of my singing was done in the woods where I
grew up or in D.C.-area coffeehouses with my sister Maura, and
continues through 2006′s MY LIFE, encompassing many of the songs I
perform in my appearances these days. I was also pleasantly surprised
when the Blix Street came up with a title and a theme that so suits
this project, affirming my place in the world as I think of it-sailing.
The little watercolor on the cover was done when I was in my late
teens. The Viking ship was a recurrent image in my daydreams and
watercolors during those years. I always thought of it as a dream ship
sailing on the sea of life between storm and calm, but always coming
home through the dark sky. As far as I know, this is the only remaining
picture from my water-coloring days.”
If the songs chosen for inclusion on SAILING reflect the journey of the
singer’s career and life, they also reveal her impressively eclectic
taste, ear for the perfect match of words and music irrespective of
genre and a delivery that goes straight to the heart. Grace Griffith’s
musical roots run deep through the traditional music of Scotland and
Ireland. She includes the legendary Scots singer Jean Redpath among her
earliest and most abiding influences and admits to an insatiable love
for Irish song during her college years. Her roots, though, extend into
the fertile ground that is contemporary music as evidenced by her
stylings of songs by artists such as Sting, Iris DeMent, and Jane
“The first band I played and toured with was an Irish ‘mostly female’
band called The Hags,” Griffith recounts. That was in the early 1980′s.
In the late 80′s, she performed with Susan Graham White as Hazlewood,
resulting in the album JOURNEYS. Griffith spent the early 1990′s
performing and recording with Connemara, a group heavily influenced by
Celtic music traditions. SIREN SONG, a CD showcasing Griffith’s soaring
vocals and group member Cathy Palmer’s lyrical fiddle, also featured
stellar performances by multi-instrumentalist Zan McLeod and accordion
player Billy McComiskey. The surprising variety of material and
arrangements on the tracks from MINSTREL SONG, SANDS OF TIME and MY
LIFE showcase Grace Griffith as a solo artist of rare talent and taste
and a seemingly limitless appreciation for the human spirit. The names
Marcy Marxer, Chris Biondo and Lenny Williams appear again and again on
the liner copy. As producers and as musicians, their presence and
contributions-as well as those by other musicians such as guitarist Al
Petteway and banjo player Cathy Fink -are richly felt throughout. Chris
Biondo, producer and mentor to the late Eva Cassidy, says “There is no
one I know of on the planet who sings with the emotional credibility
that Grace conveys.”
Grace Griffith’s journey has earned her an overwhelming armload of
WAMMIEs in categories including Best Album, Best Artist, Best Folk
Album and Best Folk Artist. Most recently, the D.C.-based organization
named her as 2009′s Best Folk Traditional Vocalist.
For years, she practiced physical therapy by day and sang by night,
earning a well-deserved reputation among peers and critics and fans.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1998, she continued to work and
perform until a few years ago when the progress of the disease made the
practice of physical therapy impossible and performing in concert
difficult. In 2006, she underwent Deep Brain Stimulation surgery at
Johns Hopkins University Hospital. She has benefitted from the
still-experimental procedure and has actively created a new niche for
herself as an effective speaker and educator on Parkinson’s and the
role music and the performing arts play for those with the disease.
At the World Parkinson’s Congress, she again spoke on the topic of
music and endeavoring to maintain a creative approach to living with
the challenges of Parkinson’s. Her co-presenter was Constance Tomaino,
a researcher and published author in the field of music therapy.
In addition to her involvement with Parkinson’s-related groups and
educational projects, Grace Griffith continues to perform. One such
performance was at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,
where she sang “If I Can’t Dance,” a song from MY LIFE, accompanying a
dance troupe comprised of people with Parkinson’s. More recently, she
has been doing low-pressure performances around the Washington area in
collaboration with local singer-songwriter Lynn Hollyfield. “Lynn is
the perfect complement for me on guitar,” says Griffith. “For the most
part, I’ve had to give up playing instruments in public performance due
to the effects of Parkinson’s. Lynn and I are both physical therapists
by training. Although I’ve retired from active status, she is still
working in the field. I owe her, as well as some other music friends,
deep gratitude for their patience, encouragement and support, which has
enabled me to pursue the bliss that is my music despite Parkinson’s.”
GRACE GRIFFITH: MY LIFE
Those who have followed Grace and her music through her
years of performing (mostly for local audiences, though she has a
following far beyond) and recording shouldn't be too surprised by the
range of joy and struggle expressed in this dozen song
collection. Grace's reputation as a singer is equaled by her
reputation as an interpreter capable of transforming the experiences of
living into music that is both comforting and captivating.
“My Life”, the opening and title cut of Grace' s new CD, was written by
Iris Dement and features orchestration by Roger Scott Craig. It
starts things out on a sweet note, acknowledging the immeasurable
importance of love in ordinary life. Other selections include
works penned by contemporary writers Jane Siberry, Sting, Susan Graham
White, Lightfoot, and others, as well as a couple of songs from
Appalachian and Irish tradition and a poignantly powerful poem by
Grace’s brother Fred Sisson set to music by singer/songwriter Carey
Creed that culminates in a danceable rendering of Jennifer Berezan's
"If I Can't Dance"
Al Petteway’s ever exquisite guitar playing and Lenny Williams'
tasteful and evocative piano playing form the core accompaniment,
embellished by the multi-instrumental talents of Marcy Marxer and
Chris Biondo’s rare and solid bass playing. Noteable guests on
the recording include Cathy Fink, fiddler Rickie Simpkins, Amy White,
Ann Louise White, Zan McLeod, and more. Finishing touches like
Anderson Allen's polyethnic percussion, Jesse's Winch's Irish bodhran
playing , and Jody Marshall’s innovative use of e-bow on the hammered
dulcimer add nicely varied textures.
The overall tone of “My Life” is bittersweet with the emphasis on
sweet—that is, balanced by enough bitter to make the sweetness real and
the optimism profound. Heartfelt singing by Grace complemented by
lovely harmony vocals, excellent production quality, and great
musicianship are bound to please, comfort and inspire.
GRACE GRIFFITH: SANDS OF TIME
is best known as a celtic singer, but in the
tradition of interpretive vocalists, she has a reputation for
crossing genre lines to go after songs that inspire her. While
she continues to record and perform in her celtic persona as part of
Connemara, Irish Fire, and Jennifer Cutting's Ocean Orchestra, her 2003
solo release for Blix Street Records, "Sands of Time" highlights other
musical facets of this versatile performer .
The production team for "Sands of Time" includes Lenny Williams and
Chris Biondo formerly of the Eva Cassidy band, and Marcy
Marxer, all outstanding musicians in their own right.
Williams' exquisite and often tender piano playing provides the
perfect setting for Grace's voice, while Marxer's skill on
multiple instruments lends a variety of textures that weave a
wonderfully varied tapestry. Biondo, who seldom performs since
focusing full time on his studio soundtrack work, plays bass on 2
They have combined their diverse talents to render a collection with
broad appeal, adorned by guests such as Al Petteway, Fred Lieder
(cello), and Carey Creed, Lisa Moscatiello and the late Freyda Epstein
on harmony vocals (Epstein appears on the only previously released cut
on the CD, a collaboration with Bob Read which Marxer coincidentally
picked for "Sands of Time" shortly before the singer's untimely death).
"Sands of Time"
Review by Jennifer Cutting
Grace Griffith's new CD Sands of Time is
an oasis of peace, a chapbook
of perennial wisdom, and a celebration of life's evanescent joys, all
in one beautiful package.
Though known in her earlier career for her
ethereal Celtic vocal work, Grace has evolved into a song stylist who
can bring her healing and graceful voice to a variety of genres, making
listeners realize that it's all just good music.
In a landscape where
songwriters are like painters, singers are very much like curators,
selecting the paintings to exhibit and making sure each painting is
shown in its proper setting. For this album, Grace has curated a
particularly fine collection from "schools" as diverse as bluegrass,
Latin, inspirational, and music theatre.
Her voice rides the sensual waves of the Samba and Bossa vibe
warmly in selections such as "Summer" ("Estate") and a Latin treatment
of Lerner & Lowe's 1947 Brigadoon song, "Almost Like Being in Love"
-- and in the very next breath, nimbly climbs the melodic trellises of
the finale from Leonard Bernstein's operetta Candide, "Make Our Garden
Grow." Her affection for the individual songs themselves continues to
shine through on selections from the other genre-transcending writers,
including Randy Barrett's "Hold Me Forever," Peter Rowan's "On the
Wings of Horses," and Kris Kristofferson & Danny Timms' "Moment of
Forever." Deserving of special mention is Carey Creed's setting of a
13th-century Vietnamese poem "Rebirth;" its voice, piano and whistle
texture as transparent as the broth in a bowl of pho, and as delicious
in its simplicity.
As an album, Sands of Time
has an open and spacious
feeling about it that is due in part to its clean, simple instrumental
textures (there are usually only two or three instruments playing at
any one time). Credit goes to producers Lenny Williams, Chris Biondo,
and Marcy Marxer for their judicious musical feng shui, or "art of
is not a sanitized album. Its more vulnerable moments
are not artificially whisked away, but allowed to exist as part of the
whole - a rare and ingenuous thing in these days of digital
It is also the album of an artist who has passed through more
share of life's "necessary losses," and emerged from the passage having
chosen hope as her favored anthem. She contributes this hard-won and
lovely serenity to her rendering of Leslie Phillips' inspirational song
"I Will Carry You," made even more moving by Al Petteway's guitar work,
which somehow manages to express both emotional gravity and lightness
of touch. And Grace's trademark sense of humor makes itself known in
the light-hearted contemporary swing tune "Til They Discovered Music,"
a just-right change of pace toward the end of an elegant and
emotionally satisfying album.
Cutting is a composer, songwriter and
producer who is currently featuring Grace as the lead singer in her
7-piece performing group, the Ocean Orchestra, and on her upcoming CD Ocean: Songs for the Night Sea
Journey. She contributed the title song
"Sands of Time" to the the album. Jennifer is also an ethnomusicologist
who has written articles for Grammy
(the magazine of the National
Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) and reviewed folk recordings
for Dirty Linen magazine.
Formerly, she was a restaurant reviewer for
the Washington Post.
GRIFFITH: MINSTREL SONG
reflects Griffith's eclectic taste, ranging from traditional songs such
as the Scottish ballad Searching for Lambs and the Irish toast Kind
Friends and Companions to works by contemporary songwriters such as
Jane Siberry (Bound by the Beauty) and Bruce Cockburn (Wondering Where
the Lions Are). Audiophiles will appreciate the sound fidelity achieved
by producer Marcy Marxer and recording engineer Jim Robeson (Bias
Music lovers will enjoy the variety of repertory, set in arrangments
ranging from the sparse guitar and cello accompaniment of Gerry
O'Beirne's Half Moon Bay and poignant yet freeflowing guitar work by
Zan McLeod on Kind Friends and Companions to lush productions of
Richard Farina's Swallow Song (haunting multi-tracked guitar work by
O'Beirne combined with vocal overlays by Griffith) and the title cut
(dressed out in synthesizer effects and varied instruments).
The album is enhanced by the fine musicianship of Al Petteway and
others, and a guest appearance by Dougie McLean comes as a rare
surprise. Griffith's predeliction for songs of a reflective nature
shows here, most strikingly in her treatment of Iris Dement's lovely
and bittersweet My Life, but gravity is pleasurably balanced with
celebration, as in McLean's joyous, I Feel So Near and John Martyn's
benediction May You Never.
This album had been a while coming (Griffith's last solo release was
1996), but as Griffith's soothing and ethereal voice graces the closing
...til there's no more time for singing and til we reach the story's
end, I'll always find the strength within me to rise and sing my song
GRACE GRIFFITH: GRACE
'Grace lives up to her name,' says music critic Adam
Christiansen, ' . . . her singing is a complete enchantment from the
This highly acclaimed CD is a wonderfully eclectic album of
songs both celtic and contemporary. Here the voice critics so love is
garnished with exquisite guest work by Martin Simpson, Zan
McLeod, Al Petteway, and others. Originally released in the DC area as Every
Hue and Shade, it features two new cuts, one recorded exclusively
for this project.
CONNEMARA: SIREN SONG
According to the Folk Harp Journal 'SirenSong
is a beautiful journey into the mythology and music of the sea . . .
thoughtfully assembled from many pieces of song and story, some
familiar, some newly composed, (singer Grace) Griffith and (fiddler
Cathy) Palmer navigate by starlight as they lead us liltingly through
this highly musical work . . . (uniting) songs of the seals . . . with
the elusive sighing of mermaids and the rowdy jigs and hornpipes . . .'
'(SirenSong) includes performances by guest
musicians Zan McLeod, Jody Marshall on hammered dulcimer,
Billy McComisky on accordion, and Carol Thompson, Sue Richards and Mary
Fitzgerald on Celtic harp. SirenSong speaks volumes for
the ability of these two artists not so much to lure sailors to the
bottom of the sea . . . which I don't doubt they could do . . . but to
lure the music of the world's waters to the shore of their unique
CONNEMARA: BEYOND THE
In the words of the Washington Post, here is 'a
uniformly alluring collection of songs, airs, jigs, waltzes and
strathspeys that posses a timeless charm and poignant beauty. Featuring
the haunting voice of Grace Griffith and Cathy Palmer's lyrical
fiddling joined by Tracie Brown on celtic harp, the album is
comprised of songs and instrumentals of Scottish and Irish derivation
from both old and new sources.'
IRISH FIRE: THE MUSIC AND DANCE OF IRELAND
Grace is guest vocalist on this CD, produced by Dominick
Murray and Dave Abe. For information visit Irish Fire's website.
|VARIOUS ARTISTS: GLASS HALF FULL
A Music Photographer's Vision of Hope
GRACE RECOMMENDS: GLASS HALF FULL IS THE
PERFECT CHRISTMAS (or anytime) GIFT!
Go to the Glass Half Full
website for more information.
Among the highlights for this listener include Laura Nyro's
beautiful "Mother's Spiritual", Holly Near's passionate rendering of
"Gracias a la Vida", Chris Williamson's "Don't Lose Heart", Deidre
McCalla's joyous and rhythmically rich "Playing for Keeps", and a
beautiful poem by Cecile McHardy called "Praise Song for a New
Day" set to music by Suzzy and Maggie Roche.
Conceived and produced by Irene Young, this compilation of 23
women musicians was inspired by the photographer's own battle with
breast cancer. Arguably the top photographer in the independent
scene, Young has enlisted a rather amazing array of women songwriters
and singers for this project.
Other artists include Ireland's Mary Black, Patty Larkin,
Laurie Lewis, Suzanne Vega, Christine Lavin, the
late Freyda Epstein, and West Coast artists
Jennifer Berezan, Chris Webster, Barbara
Higbie, and Sheilah Glover, whose brilliant "Breath Song" shines.
Washington, DC is well represented on the collection by
Cathy Fink and Marcie Marxer, Blix Street Record's Grace Griffith, and
composer Jennifer Cutting, whose piece
features the unique sound of a Bulgarian womens' chorus.
opening track by Mae Robertson sets the mood for a wonderful collection
of uplifting songs. Eileen Weiss's "Woman of a Calm Heart" and
Hill's crystalline "May the Light of Love" round out a beautiful
album. The fact that part of the proceeds from sales of this CD
benefit such a good cause is icing on the cake.