POP / Live Reviews: Have a nice flight: Jasper Rees on Nanci Griffith, the air hostess with a devil within

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The Independent Online
This being a tour to promote Nanci Griffith's new album, Flyer, an aeronautical metaphor seemed the obvious route in at the Royal Albert Hall. A disembodied compere wished her audience a safe and pleasant flight, and you could almost hear the metaphor crashing on the runway. Griffith might have her moments when she sounds like so much fluffy white cloud, but Flyer is a turbulent ride. And her other biggest- selling album was Storms.

Concerts are another thing: in front of 2,000 people, the niceness of an air hostess will out. The theme prevailed for a couple of songs, the title track followed by Julie Gold's 'From a Distance', before the show settled into a more conventional pattern in which Griffith introduced most songs at greater length than necessary, and then sang them with impeccable power and finesse.

There must be a reason why a songwriter who deploys words so precisely should coexist with a speaker who trades in hyperbole.

Still, some of Griffith's peers have earned the superlatives she gives them - Harlan Howard, the co-author of the chugging ballad 'Say It Isn't So', or the late Kate Wolf, who wrote 'Across the Great Divide', or John Prine, whose lover's lament 'Speed of the Sound of Loneliness' cropped up here with a dinky piano solo that sounded a lot less miserable than the other versions by either Prine or Griffith. Only one cover, a version of 'Things We Said Today', didn't earn its authors a name-check, the implication being that Lennon and McCartney need no introduction.

There's as much do as say in Grffith's patronage. Having spent long years alone on the road, she zealously hands out jobs to musicians in the same position she found herself in many albums ago. The current beneficiary, out in front of a five- strong all-male band led by James Hooker on piano, is Lee Satterfield, who achieves the impossible of having an even more benign presence than her boss.

When they stand centre stage as if joined at the hip, a singing, strumming sorority on acoustic guitars and harmony vocals, it's as if they've joined the Judds and the McGarrigles in the list of all- time great all-girl groups. The more ethereal excerpts from the Griffith repertoire - 'Always Will', 'Nobody's Angel', the 19th-century folk song 'Are You Tired of Me Darling' - get the full sisters-are-doing-it treatment.

There are times when you find yourself wondering whether, as a part of her liberal west Texas upbringing, Griffith was checked in for an ill-will bypass. And then she hits the accelerator, throws back her head and hammers out the in-yer-face stompers that reassure you of the devil in her. 'Time of Inconvenience' and 'Anything You Want But Me' from the new album are just as good as 'Outbound Plane' and 'Ford Econoline', the leaders in this field. And while we're on fields, Griffith dedicated 'Trouble in the Fields' to 'the farmers in England'. A first for the Albert Hall, surely?

(Photograph omitted)

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