Vietnam War Still Fresh In Griffith's 'Mind'

Excerpted from the magazine for

Four years after her last studio album, Nanci Griffith is back with a new one, "Hearts in Mind"; a new label, New Door/Universal Music Enterprises; and a new producer -- herself.

She retains her outspoken anti-war stance, as evidenced by the album's dedication "to the memory of every soldier and every civilian lost to the horrors of war." There's further evidence in the album title, which plays on the stated Vietnam -- and later Iraq -- War goal of winning the hearts and minds of the local citizenry.

Song titles like "Old Hanoi" and "Heart of Indochine" further reflect Griffith's continuing post-war involvement in Vietnam, where she will return in April to help commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam War's end with a concert at the Hanoi Opera House.

"'Heart of Indochine' is about the peace in Vietnam that we never thought would come," says Griffith, who has visited the country several times on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and the Campaign for a Landmine Free World. "I hope it doesn't take 30 years to write a song like that for Iraq."

"Big Blue Ball of War" is another anti-war song on the album, while "Before," another track, "really emphasizes that we had lives before this administration pulled their terror tactics on the American people," Griffith says. "Now there's so much anxiety and fear thrown at us every day, and it does change your life.

"I've always had a big mouth," she adds lightheartedly, "and it's not a time to be silent." But she points out that "Hearts in Mind" isn't entirely war-related. One song, "Beautiful," was written about her stepfather, who performed in Woody Herman's band and with Hoagy Carmichael.

"It's so fun to perform, because I get to scat at the end -- which is a real shocker for my audience," she says of the song. "Ella Fitzgerald said scatting was like standing naked onstage, because it was so revealing and no two people do it alike. I really like that."

The album, which arrived Feb. 8, features eight songs that were either self-penned or co-written.

Besides Griffith's longtime band, the Blue Moon Orchestra, the set features guest artists including Mac MacAnally. He previously sang with Griffith on her early-career classic "Gulf Coast Highway" and reprises his role on "Rise to the Occasion."

Another guest artist is Keith Carradine, who co-wrote and sings on "Our Very Own," the title track to a forthcoming movie in which he stars. The album also features Jimmy Buffett, who sings on Blue Moon Orchestra guitarist Clive Gregson's "I Love This Town" -- returning Griffith's favor of singing backup on his platinum-selling "License to Chill."

But "Hearts in Mind" also marks Griffith's biggest undertaking as a producer. "I've never been so totally at the wheel as I was on this one," says Griffith, who co-produced the set with her drummer, Pat McInerny.

Following promotional performances on "Late Night With David Letterman" and NPR in New York, Griffith is heading west for concerts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

But her own heart is set on her April trip to Vietnam, as she singles out one final album track. "'Love Conquers All,'" she says. "I really, really believe it."

Excerpted from the Feb. 19, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to subscribers.

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