Having a heart is what Nanci Griffith represents to many fans today. Her championing of non-violent causes such as her advocacy for a landmine-free world is proof of that. Hearts In Mind, her new album, is in fact a culmination of her visits to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Philip Cheah reviews.


For an artist so late in her career, it is a remarkable achievement that Nanci Griffith is still capable of making important albums. While Hearts In Mind [New Door] is not a masterpiece as her last studio album, Clock Without Hands (2001), it is still formidable. It's not an album that you can brush off easily. Even a generic song such as A Simple Life contains a strong lyric: "I don't want your wars/ to take my children." While the current war on Iraq is now all about winning hearts and minds, Griffith is saying that the warmongers don't have "hearts in mind." In short, they don't have concern and compassion in their minds.

In the notes to the album's keynote song, Big Blue Ball Of War, a lament on how global conflict is today the norm, she says: "Okay boys, it's been all about you, your wars, your power and your feuds since Abraham. It's time to step aside and let the ladies clean this house and you take the garbage and leave it at the curb."

Having a heart is what Griffith represents to many fans today and championing of non-violent causes such as her advocacy for a landmine-free world. Hearts In Mind is in fact a culmination of her visits to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Both Heart Of Indochine and Old Hanoi recall her memories of those trips. The former is one of the rare times that the Vietnam War is correctly referred to as the American War (after all, we now know who started it) by a US musician. Both songs are elegiac and nostalgic, sad and wistful for the lives and the time lost.

Griffith's capacity for memory extends to her stepfather (Beautiful), the marriage of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Le Ann Etheridge's Back When Ted Loved Sylvia) and the victims of 9/11 (Julie Gold's Mountain Of Sorrow).

What's truly amazing about her memory is her unerring ability to rediscover talent. She did that in her two volumes of Other Voices. On the bonus track here, she brings back Keith Carradine (remember his '80s hit, I'm Easy?) in one of the most haunting songs, Our Very Own. It's a song that looks at changes, and how sometimes those changes are not real changes: "Youth is but a breath in time/ A cruise around the square/ You swore you'd never be your folks/ And suddenly you're there." It's a song about lost idealism. It's also perhaps Griffith's wake-up call to the world.



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