With 20 albums to her name that include everything from poetic Texas folk to country to original pop to political songs to well-chosen covers, Nanci Griffith certainly qualifies as a multifaceted talent. The singer-songwriter's high, slightly pinched voice is always recognizable, yet she uses it to play many parts. The only time I saw her live, she was in a nostalgic mood, recounting the good and bad of small-town life in front of her beloved Blue Moon Orchestra, a country-pop band that adroitly follows her wherever she chooses to travel.
But that was just one side of Nanci Griffith. The native Texan and former schoolteacher has explored a lot of musical territory since debuting 30 years ago with There's a Light Beyond These Woods. She still refers to her music as "folkabilly," a term that suggests how she brought together folk, country and rock as her career took off in the 1980s.
An unpublished novelist, Griffith is never at a loss for just the right word or image, and self-penned hits like the reflective "Love at the Five and Dime" and the rollicking "Outbound Plane" succeed as much because of her gift for writing as her vocal delivery. Griffith is also a canny interpreter of other artists' songs. On 2006's Ruby's Torch she plays the chanteuse, adding torch-song passion and melancholy to a diverse set of material that includes Tom Waits' "Ruby's Arms," standards like "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and her own "Late Night Grande Hotel."
Not that Griffith is apt to concentrate on those songs at the Barrymore. Her rich career leaves so much to choose from that any live set is sure to touch on musical highlights that even her most devoted fans have half forgotten.