One of America’s finest singer/songwriters released her first album of mostly original songs in almost 6 years today – and the wait has been worth listeners’ patience. Patty Griffin’s American Kid should occupy a prominent place on most “best of 2013” lists. Griffin has been engaged in a variety of interesting projects over the past few years, including the gospel collaborations of her 2010 release Downtown Church as well as touring and recording with her beau Robert Plant (yes, that Robert Plant) in the Band of Joy. She began writing the songs that would become the new record in 2009 as she was dealing with the impending death of her father. The sound is stripped-down, free of the technical gloss and pitch correction that renders recorded performances so perfect and so antiseptic. This is closer to a live performance with a rawness and immediacy that fits with Griffin’s ruminations on a life winding down and the heartbreak of losing both a parent and the stories and memories that would be lost with his passing.

The death of Griffin’s father has inspired a collection of songs that are united in themes of souls parting and meeting again, reflections on life’s passing moments – imaginings of her father’s childhood in “Irish Boy”, the wedding of her grandparents in “Get Ready Marie”, and the grief of letting someone go in “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone”. “Ohio” is a haunting fantasy of the meeting of runaway slaves featuring Griffin and Plant’s voices floating and soaring through the ether. The emotional center of the album is “Highway Song” as the promise “I will wait for your return…” becomes both a prayer and a promise for souls reuniting in some other place.