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Patty Griffin Uses Grief on 'Servant of Love'

Patty Griffin
Patty Griffin

Songwriter Patty Griffin isn't discussing her breakup with Robert Plant, and anyone mining for clues in her new album, "Servant of Love,'' should beware: Even Griffin is still deciphering the lyrics.

"A lot of this stuff on this record is not clear to me. Like in the way that when you read a poem, it's not clear to you but it makes you feel a certain way,'' she said.

Not always in two decades of inspiring bigger-selling artists — the Dixie Chicks, Emmylou Harris and Kelly Clarkson have all covered her songs — has Griffin scratched her head at her own work. Her last album, the critically acclaimed "American Kid'' in 2013, tackled the loss of her father. Before that she explored religion over mesmerizing gospel in the 2010 Grammy-winner "Downtown Church.''

But Griffin, 51, finds herself on new ground — even while "Servant of Love,'' out Friday, follows worn paths of grief and hope. For one, this ninth studio album is the first she's released on her own. ("All the kids are doing it,'' she said.) And she's confronting getting older, she said, with heavy reflection for the first time in her career.

But while Griffin continues unpacking meaning in her new songs, her lyrics are, as usual, never at a loss for words. They haunt over a piano in the title track, get bossy in "There Isn't One Way'' and bluesy on "Hurt a Little While.'' Another track, "Everything's Changed,'' traces the upheaval of Hurricane Katrina.

Griffin said there's more joy in her life than before, but also wrote the album while going through what she called "a lot of losses.''

"At this point in my life, a lot of seeds just ain't ever going to come up. What I got planted, what I dreamed I should plant, has been planted now,'' Griffin told The Associated Press at a deli near her Austin home. "There's this feeling of fatigue that takes over. It's grief for things that have passed you by because of your age and will not happen.''

Robert Platt and Patty Griffin perform during the Americana Music Honors and Awards show in Nashville, Tennessee, Sept. 17, 2014.
Robert Platt and Patty Griffin perform during the Americana Music Honors and Awards show in Nashville, Tennessee, Sept. 17, 2014.

Griffin won't say precisely what she's written off. She pauses to make that clear. "Servant of Love'' is her first album since breaking up with Plant, the former Led Zeppelin frontman who lived with Griffin in Austin for several years before their split. The pair also collaborated on Plant's "Band of Joy.''

What she will say: Griffin is now looking to spread her influence beyond music. She talks about poverty and the environment and not sitting back, even if "I may go out and say stupid things.'' She saw how the Dixie Chicks unraveled after singer Natalie Maines bashed then-President George W. Bush over the Iraq war in 2003, but also how Maines seemed to emerge from the uproar happy and enlightened.

"Age gets you into this territory of, 'What do I plant now?' That's shocking to discover,'' she said. "You have to keep planting until the very end.''