The most amazing thing in the career of Nanci Griffith is she's never had a hit record in the United States. In Ireland her albums all go gold, and she's written hits for others ("Love at the Five and Dime" for Kathy Mattea). What's seems odd, however, is that she's a promoter's dream; a natural for stardom.
Cute and petite (a la Paulette Carl-son of Highway 101), Griffith has a voice that combines vulnerability and strength in a style that acoustic music hasn't seen since Emmylou Harris began. And she has true performing talent: as a songwriter, as a guitarist and as a stage performer.
And last Friday night on the U. of U. campus she put all those attri-butes were on display. Griffith's concert was part of a benefit for KRCL. She delivered for them in a big way. The hall was practically full, with everyone there having an inkling of what they were in for. The tone and texture of the whole event, in fact, seemed a bit like a '60s hootenanny.
Last time Griffith came to town she brought her Blue Moon Orchestra, a bright/tight backup band led by Danny Flowers, the ramrod for Don Williams' band for years. This time she flew solo; just two guitars, one tuned to an open "E" for "Love at the Five and Dime" and other mood pieces, the other a standard rock-a-billy model usually capoed up several frets.
And she came ready to play. All the songs KRCL listeners wanted to hear were there ("Goin' Gone," "Mary Margaret," "Ford Econo-line"). And there were dozens they'll be listening for in the future. From time to time Griffith would toss off lines that were obviously part of her traveling show, but seemed to come from her fresh and clean as mountain water.
"Never send your guitars to California," she said at one point, struggling to get one of the instruments in tune, "they get out there and start playing around in hot tubs and things and they're never the same."
We learned that her friend Mary Magarget "lives so far out in the country she runs her kids in to the truck stop from time to time so they can see what other kids look like," and we got a nice verbal portrait of songwriter Harlan Howard and singer Loretta Lynn.
Amid the patter Griffith played a lot of songs from her new live album: "More than a Whisper," "From a Distance" (her recent single and video) and "Just Once in a Blue Moon."
Hardin Davis, Salt Lake City sing-er/songwriter/picker, opened the show for her with several clever, novelty numbers broken up by a song written by his brother Jeff and a wonderful little number about two friends in the state hospital, written by local tunesmith Dr. Scott Williams.
As they say in the Utah's outer counties, both performers went down like a Sunday dinner.