NEW YORK (Billboard) – Country traditionalist Patty Griffin has gone gospel for her seventh album, due in stores on January 26.
"Downtown Church," as the title suggests, was recorded at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and gospel group the Fairfield Four joining on vocals. It marks her fifth release for Dave Matthews' ATO Records.
"It had a really interesting history," Griffin tells Billboard.com of her recording location. "It was a civil war hospital. Lately, it takes over for caring for a lot of homeless people. Gospel music is very broad, but my entry was the Staple Singers and the records they did. You could actually hear people in the pews on the old recordings."
The idea to record a gospel-style record stemmed from Griffin's participation in the "Oh Happy Day" compilation, on which she duets with Mavis Staples. The album shows a wide range of influences, blending a traditional country sound with a more blues-oriented approach.
At times, Griffin is slow and poised on "Death's Got A Warrant" and "Wade in the Water" to a harder, driving approach during "Move Up" and "I Smell A Rat."
Griffin covers the likes of Hank Williams ("House of Gold") and traditional songs such as "Never Grow Old" and "If I Had My Way" (known to Grateful Dead fans as "Samson & Delilah"). She also performs several of her own tunes, including "Coming Home To Me" and the ballad "Little Fire."
Commercially, Griffin has fared well over the last few years -- 2007's "Children Running Through" has sold 168,000 according to Nielsen SoundScan. Her 1996 debut "Living With Ghosts" remains her best seller, having sold 222,000. Perhaps more lucratively, her song "Up to the Mountain" is featured on Susan Boyle's blockbuster album "I Dreamed a Dream."
Although details are still being ironed out, Griffin is planning to kick off a tour in late March. On January 21, she'll play a one-off date in Austin, Texas, as a part of a "Grounded in Music" fundraiser.