I used to be shy.
You made me sing.

I used to refuse things at table.
Now I shout for more wine.

In somber dignity, I used to sit
on my mat and pray.

Now children run through
and make faces at me.

—Rumi poem, as translated by Coleman Barks

Last summer, singer-songwriter Patty Griffin recorded her fifth studio album, Children Running Through, in an old house across the street from her home in Austin, Texas. She soundproofed the walls with bohemian tapestries, squeezed a grand piano through a stubborn door frame, surrounded herself with vintage microphones, and propped a ’65 Gibson J-50 across her lap. Most importantly, Griffin didn’t worry what others would think of the finished product—a preoccupation that she says hindered her earlier efforts.

“I just kind of felt like singing what I wanted to sing, and playing how I wanted to play,” 43-year-old Griffin says. “It’s not all dark and tragic. It’s a different way for me to look at things. Getting old—older, I should say, I’m not so serious all the time.”

A change of pace from her last two albums—Impossible Dream and 1,000 Kisses—which were crammed with haunting character studies, Griffin’s new work on ATO Records is buoyed by lyrics of release and relief. In “Heavenly Day,” she wails, “Got no trouble today with anyone,” and in the spry bluegrass number “No Bad News,” she proclaims, “We won’t be afraid to live anymore.”

Don’t for a moment, however, think Patty Griffin’s days as a sourpuss are behind her. “Someone Else’s Tomorrow” is an aching piano dirge, and in “Railroad Wings,” her gorgeous voice lilts, “This emptiness has followed me like a cold blue sky/ There’s things I’ll never tell you ’til the day I die/ Things I’ve done I can never undo.”

The songs on Children Running Through are songs of movement—of trains, and buses, of flying away, a testament to Griffin’s wanderlust, which has spurred her on through a prestigious career that she began late, putting out her first LP in ’96 at the age of 32.

Though Griffin’s lived in Austin for nearly 10 years, her upbringing in rural Maine is the thread of continuity that best stitches each of her albums together. “It’s all so much about Maine, really,” Griffin says. “I’m kinda surprised how it keeps turning up.”

In Children Running Through’s “Burgundy Shoes,” Griffin recalls an early moment with her mother. “We wait for the bus that’s going to Bangor,” she sings above a lurching piano. “In my plaid dress and burgundy shoes/ In your red lipstick and lilac kerchief/ You’re the most pretty lady in the world.”

Other stand-outs on Children include “Trapeze,” a duet with Emmylou Harris, and the Martin Luther King tribute song “Up to the Mountain (MLK Song),” which sounds for all the world like an old spiritual, and has already become an instant classic in the mouths of Kelly Clarkson and soul singer Solomon Burke.

“When I heard Solomon’s final version of ‘Up to the Mountain’ I was almost too intimidated and thought of cutting it off my record,” says Griffin with a laugh. Last month, Kelly Clarkson, who’s said “Patty Griffin is my favorite person on the planet,” even performed the song on American Idol.

Of the Children Running Through album title, Griffin says, “It’s a Coleman Barks translation of a Rumi poem. The basic gist of the poem—and of my album, really—is that you might as well lighten up, and you don’t know nothin’ and life’s gonna be hard all by itself so you might as well enjoy what there is to enjoy.”

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