So the second time around I was listening for the same raw, hypnotic, haunting qualities, but Griffin eschewed the typecast and gave me considerable trouble returning to that same place on her sophomore CD. Both are released under the band name Monarchs, and some very good players accompany her, but with a few exceptions the music is all Celeste.
And, just like the very sexy woman she reveals herself to be in her music, she confounded my expectations if not my desires, trying out some new things, even to the point of gospel hillbilly rockabilly overtones in the track “The Things You Build Yourself” (baby boomers may wince that in Griffin’s 20-something view, people with old-time religion are quaint enough to remember the Allman Brothers). Well, she did announce in the first track, “Go I’ll Go,” that she was turning her attention to writing “spirituals,” and that is one of the rich traditions on which she draws, with a contemporary slant, on TWTF.
Two songs, “Time to Spare” and “Come on and Move Me,” are holdovers from her first batch of songs, cuts that didn’t quite make it onto Aged in Oak. And that is part of what gave me a problem — the songs she previously played with slow and determined deliberation, in an excruciatingly exquisite process, as if by the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, she now rips off in the summer of ‘09 with a comparatively jaunty up-tempo aplomb.
Now, I am not the kind of guy who would forget a girl he’s been with for over a year for the first rock starlet to come along, and I had never thought of Griffin in that way anyway, but last summer on stage when she drawled out the command to “come on and move me,” I almost felt hypnotically compelled to walk on stage and comply. And I am sure I am not the only one.
And, I guess, sort of like Jimmy Carter, just for entertaining the notion, I got scratched up and took five of Emily’s best punches to the face for wanting to go to Griffin’s first CD release party last year. It is that powerful of a song.
Upon further listening to TWTF, I realized that despite the new offhand rhymes and relatively insouciant rhythms, within that newer framework the Griffin I was looking for is still enveloped in the music, which is still spiritual, though perhaps more consciously so. And she is still belting out the words with a power and command that will make you completely forget about a few little rabbit punches from any other girl, even when she is adopting a pose both more and less studied and disingenuously lackadaisical.
I think I even recommended last time that Griffin try to go a little more up-tempo (like The Whigs, I think I said then, now wondering what I could have been thinking), so now I cannot be heard to complain that she is now writing and playing with more fluency and facility. I heard the Whigs at City Stages and the Whigs are OK, but the Whigs are no Celeste Griffin. They, too, are rabbit punchers by comparison.
Their new songs about how they want to sleep with somebody tonight just pale in comparison to the worlds Griffin intimates in the life stories unfurling within her songs. And that is another satisfying thing about her work, the poetry the flows with the music and evokes a range of conflictedly bittersweet lives and situations a la Lucinda Williams, but with considerably less jade in real life. In fact, Griffin herself is showing a confident, positive attitude from her new digs in Austin.
She even starts preaching it a little to her fellow females in “The Things You Build Yourself.” And by the time she teaches it to the honky-tonk piano tones of “Move on Out,” I realize that there she goes again — Griffin is hypnotizing me, just like she did in Aged in Oak.
In “For Blue on Black” I feel another tone poem coming on. And by the last track, the eponymous “Those Words, Those Frames,” I felt all that same green force driving its slow and steady deliberate and irresistible way into the flower. And don’t tell Emily, but Griffin’s words and music, in their new frame, were haunting me all over again.
The Monarchs CD release party is scheduled for Sunday, June 28, at The Nick, with Preston Lovingood and the Magic Math opening. Cover is $5 and the show starts at 10 p.m. Call (205) 252-3831 or go to the www.thenickrocks.com for more.