January 18, 2007

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Nanci Griffith, Ruby’s Torch
Rounder Records, 2006

30-year folk-pop vet and Grammy winner Griffith still says “oi” when she means to say “I” in that otherwise cowgirl accent of hers, but that’s about the only thing status quo about this orchestral maneuver. The entire album is mushed with poignant strings and bombastic pinings for her lost fella, and, given this as a reply to 1999’s “Dust Bowl Symphony,” it looks as though she’s resigned herself to her age bracket – well, no, she’s happy in it. Very 70s, the album includes a twang-riddled cover of Michael Johnson’s “Bluer Than Blue,” but the highest pedestal is reserved for none other than Tom Waits, who wrote three of the songs that received Griffith’s Manilow makeovers. Now, torch per se will usually evoke visions of dames methodically polishing off packs of cigarettes and finding the wry side of their emotional agony while adjusting their garter belts at the speakeasy, which is what the cover of Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” is for, but that’s about it for tradition – coupling the bizarre trademark diction she uses with all the big fat strings will be a mite too Celine Dion for most constitutions. C E.W.S.