Griffin House – “Flying Upside Down” (2007, Griffin House/Nettwerk)
One of the missions behind this blog is to spotlight unknown artists along with the more mainstream artists. One of those artists is Griffin House. 2004 saw the national release of Griffin’s major label debut “Lost and Found” on the Nettwerk America/EMI label. With an appealing blend of folk rock, country and even some hints of U2-ish arena rock, “Lost and Found” presented an artist coming into his own. Still signed with Nettwerk three years later, (the label is now back into indie mode after splitting from EMI), Griffin has released three other digital albums. all of them in 2006. Two were EPs worth of recordings that were supposed to make up his sophomore Nettwerk set while the third one was originally a “digital advance” of the forthcoming ‘official’ release. Well, “Homecoming” only contained two tracks from the actual “official” release. What should be said about all of these releases is the quality in the songs. The Nashville-based Ohio native simply is a very good singer/songwriter who has an amazing ability to put out consistently strong material at a breakneck pace. If there are hints of Ryan Adams in releasing three albums in one calendar year then you have hammered home a thought that I had once I saw that Griffin was releasing, “Flying Upside Down” on October 16, 2007.
Backed by most of Tom Petty’s “Heartbreakers” band, “Flying Upside Down” has the sound of a record that is ready for prime time. First single “Better Than Love” leads off the album and immediately shows off Griffin House’s emotive songwriting style. Lyrically, the song is about a guy who finds a way to profess how love gets stronger and stronger while the acoustic melody recalls Lyle Lovett. “I Remember (It’s Happening Again)” is a poignant, poetic, angry, perplexed and downright brilliant song about the way war happens to affect all of us, no matter what age we grew up in.
“I remember when I was a younger man, We were solders fighting in a foreign land, Now I’m older and it’s happening again
A simple yet poetic chorus serves as the bridge to even stronger images that are painted in the verses of a nearly 5 minute long country/folk song that manages to stay out of politics and ask, quite profoundly, “why do we seem to repeat our history?” This song has a high likelihood of being on any year-end list of ‘favorite songs’ and it deserves to be heard, especially if you’re looking for something that’s the antithesis of most country ‘protest’ songs. It actually manages to take a jab at “God Bless The USA” in a meaningful way too.
“One Thing” is a rollicking rocker that seems tailor-made for adult top 40 rock stations while “The Guy That Says Goodbye To You Is Out Of His Mind” is one of the most brilliantly constructed love songs I’ve heard in a while. It can work on any radio format but I have a feeling that it may just work best on contemporary country music stations. If Griffin House can’t release it himself, a major Nashville artist should, even if it ‘corrupts’ the song a bit. Channelling Springsteen, House manages to make his own sing-a-long song in “Live To Be Free.” (For the record both “Free” and “Guy” are the two songs that were on the ‘advance release’ but are ‘punched-up’ more here).
“Heart Of Stone” has a breezy 70s country rock vibe to it while “Hanging On (Tom’s Song)” finds a young House helping his mother heal from the hurt of the loss of a brother. If there were any comparison to U2 found on this record it would be here both lyrically and melodically. And just for that Griffin might have recorded his most ‘accessible’ song. Still, despite comparisons and accessibility, the song is much, much better than most singer-songwriter pop/rock being recorded nowadays. The strongest “Ryan Adams moment” is in the song “When The Time Is Right.” It has a ‘Cold Roses” feel yet much more accessible.
House chose to end the record with a Cash-like gospel number (“Waiting For The Rain To Come”) that works as the perfect ending piece of a stunning album. While ‘just’ a digital release to iTunes (plus), Amazon, snocap and eMusic, “Flying Upside Down” is one of 2007’s finest singer-songwriter efforts. Many of Nashville’s rock-leaning mainstream country acts would do well to study. They could learn how to touch upon multiple genres, how to flesh out songs that recall their influences without ever directly stealing. “Flying Upside Down” might just be the best record to have been released in 2007. There’s enough here for fans of any genre to truly appreciate it, even country music fans. However, if you have to hear just one song from “Flying Upside Down” it should be “I Remember (It’s Happening Again)” It’s such an important song that I’ve transcribed the lyrics and posted them on a separate page (here) for your viewing pleasure.