Patty Griffin’s gospel boogie on ‘The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson’

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Learn about the time Patty Griffin, a critical darling and member of Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, unleashed a fiery, syncopated live cover of the traditional gospel song “Move Up” on Peabody recipient Craig Ferguson’s former CBS late night television show. Guitar, boots, and bluejeans are a natural fit for Griffin as the evocative singer-songwriter stretches out on a bare bones hotel bed somewhere on the road circa 2005. Image Credit: FanArt.TV

Gifted indie singer-songwriter and critical darling Patty Griffin, whose late night television appearances are few and far between, debuted on Peabody recipient Craig Ferguson’s former CBS program The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson for the first and only time to deliver “Move Up,” a traditional gospel song taken from sixth studio album Downtown Church [2010]. Recorded in Nashville’s nearly 200-year-old Downtown Presbyterian Church — how many artists can make that claim — Downtown Church is Griffin’s first gospel project and was produced by fellow roots country artist Buddy Miller.

Griffin was exposed to relatively few gospel songs during her childhood, so the fact that her record label convinced her to record the project was nothing short of amazing. The seeds of Downtown Church may have been sown when the singer dispatched a 2008 duet with the legendary, soul stirring Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers on “Waiting for My Child to Come Home,” dropped on the various artists compilation Oh Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration.

Though most often seen with an acoustic guitar, this time Griffin, sporting a multi-colored African-inspired mosaic dress, opted for a simple percussive shaker, letting her rhythm section do the talking. Featuring drums, electric guitar, stand-up bass, Wurlitzer organ, and two female background singers [one shaking a tambourine], “Move Up” certainly had a boogie, rhythm and blues feel to it. In fact, the guitarist and bassist both provided brief, foot-shakin’ solos.

The lyrics are partly ambiguous and could even apply to a spiritual sung by Civil War-era African Americans slaves as they dragged hundreds of pounds of cotton sacks down a plantation row while a sweltering sun cast unrelenting rays. One verse was delivered with an impassioned plea — “One of these mornings, and it won’t be very long, they’re gonna look for me down here, and I believe I’m gone on home…I’m gonna see my lovin’ mother, I’m gonna see my father, too, I’m gonna walk around in glory and spread the news…Well all my life I want to know, is why my Jesus loved me so, I’m gonna move on up in glory, move on up in glory, after ‘while.”

“Move Up” should get people, even non-believers, excited and into the spirit. If you’re not movin’ something, no explanation is possible. Griffin sounds like she has been singing gospel music for years, and hopefully she will pursue this creative avenue further.

For gospel songs with a similar rockin’ feel, check out Elvis Presley covering “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot,” “Run On,” and “So High.” The latter two were featured on 1967’s Grammy Award-winning How Great Thou Art LP. “Swing Down” was originally recorded for 1960’s jubilee-driven His Hand in Mine and then again eight years later in a superior sounding fidelity version for The Trouble with Girls soundtrack — harmony backing courtesy of Darlene Love and the Blossoms.

Incidentally, Downtown Church charted Top 40 on Billboard’s Pop Album chart and went all the way to No. 1 on both the Christian and Folk charts. Downtown Church also won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Gospel Album, becoming Griffin’s best-selling album thus far.

Later in 2010 the songwriter subsequently joined forces with former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant and temporary backing crew Band of Joy, singing on roughly 60 percent of their self-titled album as well as the accompanying tour across America. Miller continued his association with Griffin by co-producing the project.

Griffin and Plant experienced a brief fling, and various media outlets published speculative, ultimately inaccurate reports claiming the pair were seen wearing wedding rings and had tied the knot somewhere in Texas. In spite of Griffin’s failed romantic pursuit with the mystical “Stairway to Heaven” narrator, Downtown Church presents the singer baring her soul with outstanding, sublime results.

© Jeremy Roberts, 2010, 2017. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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