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Downtown Church, the newest album from Patty Griffin, a highly respected artist in the Americana and folk scene, is one of those albums on which you can feel the true emotion with every song. It is without a doubt one of the strongest releases that 2010 has seen across the board. Like other truly great gospel albums that find themselves embraced by both the religious and secular masses, this record is full to the brim with soul, spirituality, and some of the most beautiful music that this year has to offer thus far. Produced by Buddy Miller, the album was recorded in the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, giving the entire piece an extremely warm and vibrant feel that remains a constant throughout. Griffin, her slew of special guests, and the tight group of musicians that provide accompaniment all add their own personal touch to this record, the result being a extremely consistent album that will give you chills one minute and make you want to dance, shout and reach for the heavens the next. Patty's performance is top-notch and extremely adaptable, from the quiet, gentle opener "House of Gold" to her soulful wails on tracks like "If I Had My Way." Joining Griffin on this album are some of the most respected names in both the Gospel and Americana music communities including Mike Farris, Regina and Ann McCrary, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Raul Malo, and of course Buddy and Julie Miller.
As a whole, Downtown Church is in the same vein as Krauss and Plant's Raising Sand, sounding extremely similar in many instances throughout and in the overall aura surrounding the music itself. Drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Dennis Crouch (both Raising Sand alum) provide a large part of this similarity, giving this album a great deal of the primitive swagger and loose, but tasteful boogie that are crucial to the sounds of both records. Highlights for me include the strong spirituals "Death's Got a Warrant" and "Wade In the Water" both of which exhibit the depth and strength of Griffin's phenomenal vocal delivery. The Latin-flavored "Virgen de Guadalupe", a duet with Raul Malo, serves as a change of pace from the rest of the record, adding more into the already eclectic mix of influences. Ending with "All Creatures of Our God and King" is the absolute perfect way to wrap things up with Downtown Church. The soft, beautiful piece features only Patty's voice and simple piano accompaniment, giving the album a simplistic and tastefully emotional end that will remain within the listeners hearts long after the album has ended and put back on the shelf. -Andrew Bryant