The way she flies

Look up the word “spellbinding” in the dictionary, and you just might see the cover of Patty Griffin’s 1000 Kisses next to the definition.

Although her own recording career has been beset by label problems, Griffin developed a solid reputation as a songwriter among her peers.

Emmylou Harris picked Griffin’s “One Big Love” as the sole cover on her self-written album, Red Dirt Girl, and the Dixie Chicks included Griffin’s “Let Him Fly” on the trio’s multi-platinum hit album, Fly.

Now signed to Dave Matthews’ ATO label, Griffin has released one of the most entrancing albums of the year.

1000 Kisses draws its strength from incredibly minimal arrangements. When the songs build to their inevitable climax, Griffin’s powerful voice seizes center stage. It’s tough not to be moved by the latter moments of “Nobody’s Crying”, “Making Pies” or the album’s opener, “Rain”.

Other times, Griffin draws even closer in. Her haunting rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Stolen Car” remains sparse and clear throughout, without losing its sense of drama.

The most lush moment on the album is “Mil Besos,” a Cuban ballad chock full of atmospheric percussion, cello and bass. Griffin’s resonant voice suits the cabaret feel of the song, and her Spanish ain’t too bad either.

Griffin’s reputation for telling compelling narratives is also well deserved.

On “Nobody’s Crying”, a jilted lover hopes the best for her ex-, knowing full well his problems were the reason for their break-up. Simple premise, but wonderfully spelled out by Griffin.

“I wish you well,” she sings, “On your way to the wishing well/Swinging off those gates of hell/But I can tell how hard you’re trying.”

“Chief” draws the portrait of an American Indian who won’t be deterred by racism. When Griffin hits the middle section of the song, it transforms from a fast-paced folk narrative to a soaring apex. Spellbinding, indeed.

Taken as a whole, 1000 Kisses is an incredibly tight opus, an album where every track fits well with the other, and the overall sound feels like a snugly-fit puzzle. A terrific voice, engaging songs, great arrangements — all the elements present to make 1000 Kisses a work of beauty.