Country traditionalist Patty Griffin will return on Jan. 26 with "Downtown Church," her seventh studio record and her fifth for ATO.
As the title suggests, the fourteen tracks were recorded at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and gospel group the Fairfield Four joining on vocals. Griffin has also assembled a stellar cast of session musicians for her backing band, including Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Dennis Crouch on bass and Jay Bellerose on drums, with the latter two most recently appearing as a part of Robert Plant/Alison Krauss' touring band.
Griffin also enlisted singer-songwriter/producer Buddy Miller for production duties as well as guitar and arrangements.
"It had a really interesting history," Griffin tells Billboard.com of her recording location. "It was a civil war hospital. Lately, it takes over for caring for a lot of homeless people. Gospel music is very broad, but my entry was the Staples Singers and the records they did. You could actually hear people in the pews on the old recordings. I asked Buddy if we could do it and get the sound -- they are built to carry voices."
The idea for to record a gospel-style record stemmed from Griffin's participation in the "Oh Happy Day" compilation, on which she duets with Mavis Staples. The album shows a wide range of influences, blending a traditional country sound with a more blues oriented approach. At times, Griffin is slow and poised on "Death's Got A Warrant" and "Wade in the Water" to a more hard, driving approach during "Move Up" and "I Smell A Rat."
Griffin covers the likes of Hank Williams ("House of Gold") and traditional songs such as "Never Grow Old" and "If I Had My Way," (the latter known to Grateful Dead fans as "Samson & Delilah,") as well as performing several of her own tunes, including "Coming Home To Me" and the ballad "Little Fire."
"I felt really free to sing and not worry about playing guitar and not worrying about anything," she says. "There are so many moments that got captured that feel it.
Commercially, Griffin has fared well over the last few years -- 2007's "Children Running Through" has sold 168,000 according to Nielsen SoundScan and her 1996 debut "Living With Ghosts" remains her best seller, having sold 222,000.
Although details are still being ironed out, Griffin is planning on a tour beginning in late March. On January 21 she'll soon play a one off date in Austin, Texas as a part of a "Grounded in Music" fundraiser.
Here is the "Downtown Church" track list:
"House of Gold"
"Death's Got A Warrant"
"If I Had My Way"
"Coming Home To Me"
"Wade In the Water"
"Never Grow Old"
"Virgen de Guadalupe"
"I Smell A Rat"
"Waiting For My Child"
"The Strange Man"
"We Shall All Be Reunited"
"All Creatures of Our God and King"