Vinyl Frontier: Nanci Griffith, The Last Of The True Believers

The thing is, me and Nanci drifted in the end. Later albums never satisfied in the same way. But after last week’s blog about having a blokeish album collection, this record from 1986 was sought out again – and what a sweet listen it is. Not saccharine sweet, though, as Griffith always has a citric tang beneath the dusting of sugar.

The sour-sweet regret of country music, I guess you’d call it, mixed with her take on folk.

She is still recording and, according to her website, still quietly seething – “I’ve had a hard life, and I write it down,” she sings on the title track of her new album, Intersection.

Was her life hard back in 1986? Who knows, but she was effortlessly stylish in the album shots, the two cover photographs showing her posing holding hardback books. On the front she is outside a Woolworth’s Luncheonette, wearing a long white dress decorated with black spots (and, yes, that is Lyle Lovett dancing with someone in the background). On the back, she changed into a long floral number, matched with pink ankle socks and brown lace-up ankle boots, while cradling a copy of Lonesome Dove by the Texan author Larry McMurtry.

The Daily Telegraph recently picked The Last Of The True Believers for one of those lists – in this case, “50 essential albums you’ve probably never heard”. Essential, yes – but “never heard”? Dear me, no. This one was rarely off the turntable for a while.

There are some great songs here, none better than the surging title track, full of regret and hot Texas winds that “keep on slappin’ my face with dust so thick that the tears won’t roll again”.

Love At The Five & Dime is a teenage love story about 16-year-old Rita – “hazel eyes & chestnut hair”. But it’s a story told from the dull shores of adulthood, with the sweet-romancing Eddie, the boy she danced with at the Five & Dime, no longer able to play in bands as “arthritis took his hands”.

Well, you don’t do looking at Nani Griffith’s lyrics looking for a laugh. That sense of sadness, of loss beneath the surface, even of the older Griffith saying she’s had a hard life yet looking gorgeously cool in these photographs; all of that somehow adds depth and shade to her music.

And the songs here are great, none better than More Than A Whisper, a lonely woman’s plea for her distant man to call – “We have not spoken since last fall/now that smoky conversation’s come and gone”. Instead she consoles herself with “winter wine”.

There is, incidentally, a lot of weather on this album, hot Texan nights anticipating winter pounding on your door.

Griffith’s voice is crystalline, the songs are sad and sometimes playful, sometimes warm and sometimes shot through with southern spirit. The album ends with the poignant farewell notes of The Wing & the Wheel – “Here’s to all the dreamers… may our open hearts find rest.”

Lyle Lovett doesn’t only dance on the cover, he sings backing vocals, too.

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