Racking Up Plays: “Ohio” by Patty Griffin feat. Robert Plant

Did I also mention how much I enjoy Patty Griffin's songwriting contributions to the Dixie Chicks oeuvre? She was a big part of what made Home such a good album.
Did I also mention how much I enjoy Patty Griffin’s songwriting contributions to the Dixie Chicks oeuvre? She was a big part of what made “Home” such a good album (via New West Records).

These are the posts where I gush about some song that I’ve got a huge crush on at the moment, and you put up with it and listen because you’re a good friend.

“Ohio,” Patty Griffin feat. Robert Plant

Patty Griffin—of whom I’ve been a fan since those glory days of the mid-’90s when alternative rock stations were willing to play an acoustic demo like “Every Little Bit“—says that “Ohio” was inspired by a Toni Morrison novel. We can only assume Griffin means Beloved, seeing as how her song is quite clearly about fugitive slaves making their way across the Ohio River to freedom. She achieves this with just about 100 well-chosen words (some of which are repeated later). Most of the lyrics are like a set of instructions, a la the Underground Railroad, punctuated only by the occasional bit of powerful poetry and one stinger of a final line.

Griffin has also acknowledged that this song belongs to her duet partner as much as it does to her. “I had the song in an odd shape and couldn’t really figure out how to use it,” she told USA Today for the song’s online-streaming debut. “He came in and arranged it so that it became what it is. He came up with the tempo and the mood on it.” And what a mood it is. Robert Plant’s arrangement lends the song an earthy, mystical quality that makes the song seem as timeless as the titular river. The pair (who are, in fact, romantically involved and also perform together in Plant’s group, Band of Joy) weave their voices together in a set of elemental harmonies.

So we have the former Led Zeppelin frontman teaming up with a Nashville semi-outsider for some hypnotic roots music. It’s not surprising that “Ohio” is reminiscent of Rising Sand, Plant’s Grammy-winning 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss. Fans of that fine collection will almost assuredly love this song.

Griffin is performing on Aug. 31 during the Strawberry Music Festival at Camp Mather near Yosemite National Park. [tickets]


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