The world of popular music is filled with singer-songwriters espousing their emotions and personal experiences in song, but few capture the hearts of fans like Griffin House.
The Thursday night show, part of the Old Rock House Listening Series, scheduled House to open for the Colorado-based folk quintet Elephant Revival. In this setting, with the floor filled with candlelit tables and chairs, House had a perfect venue to demonstrate his songwriting ability to a rapt audience.
House took the stage alone about 8 p.m. in these intimate surroundings armed with only his acoustic guitar and a decade worth of songs in his guitar case. Originally a native of Ohio, House now calls Nashville his home. The songwriter first caught my attention in 2004 when MTV/VH1 music journalist Bill Flanagan gave a rave review of his breakout 2004 album, Lost & Found, on the television program CBS Sunday Morning. At the time, I was searching for new singer-songwriters so I took Flanagan's advice and bought the album. Bowled over at the songwriter's talent, I knew I'd be following the career of this musician for years to come.
House writes the type of songs that music loving boyfriends put on a mix tape for the special girl they are trying to win over. However, House's songs, with lyrics mostly focusing on love and relationships, contain more depth than just a schmoopy love song. On the surface the casual listener might not realize this distinction, but House possesses a genuine, honest nature that captures the listener after repeated spins. This is not just sentimental, tacky crap.
House set a tone for the evening with his original material. Early in the set House presented "I Remember (It's Happening Again)," a song about the generations of war veterans who were close to over the years including his grandfather, father and a good friend.
After "Better than Love," from the same album, Flying Upside Down (2007), and a few more originals, House took the audience in a different direction. Surprisingly, the evening got interesting as House performed a stunning version of Bob Dylan's "Man in the Long Black Coat." This served to cleanse the audience's palette and open the evening up to possibility and House took the lead.
As a follow-up, he brought out the funny unreleased song, "Colleen," which he admitted he wrote for a sister's roommate leading to one of the most embarrassing times of his life when he played the song for both of them in person. He advised he recently practiced the song in their kitchen at home. From the other room her reaction was a hearty "What the fuck?" An understandable reaction when presented with the line, "Don't need to get dressed up. Bring your head and lips, oh Colleen you know what I mean." House joked that he loved the fact that he ended up with a song out of the experience, but now could only play it in concert with his wife at home.
An upbeat House asked the crowd if they wanted to do a sing-a-long. Like a proud father, he described how his 15 week-old daughter is already demonstrating signs of wanting to sing. He advised that he started singing to her the day she came into the world including the following song, the Johnny Cash classic, "Ring of Fire."
House brought the set back to his songbook as he brought out his gorgeous love song "When the Time is Right." The crowd quieted down from their sing-a-long as House crooned, "When the time is right, don't hold back." If your heart-strings don't tug hard after a line like, "Doesn't matter who you are/doesn't matter where you been/doesn't matter where you start/only matters where you end,"then I question the state of your romantic nature.
House unveiled a new song described as a murder ballad called, "Woman with the Beautiful Hair." A slight departure for House as his typical love song is turned on its ear as the protagonist wants to drown his love. Falling back into his old familiar habit, House moved back into the subject of love for a song about his grandparent's love affair on "The Way I Was Made" and the beautiful love-me-not-him-song, "The Guy That Loves You is out of his Mind."
Citing the lack of a true backstage area at the venue, House took the pragmatic approach to remain on stage to perform his encore rather than walking outside in to the cold night air until the crowd willed him back on stage with their applause. To wrap up his set, he played the Lost & Found stand out "Liberty Line," a request from earlier in the show he promised to perform. Instantly, the song took me back 8 years to the first time I heard the record.
In the end, House had impressed me all over again. Like the girl who falls in love with the guy that made her that mix tape, I was enamored. After the show I grabbed the opportunity to stop House as he made his way back to the area of the merch table. He smiled, shook my hand and asked my name. As I told him a look came over his face. He had remembered it from retweeting a couple of tweets I had made a day before. He confided his excitement about Twitter by , "I'm excited that LeeAnn Rimes has been retweeting my stuff."
We continued to talk about Nashville, why he doesn't play weddings and other musicians that call "The Music City" home like his friend Todd Snider. In conversation, House is just as genuine and honest as his music. We likely would have kept chatting, but something caught his eye just out of his peripheral vision. He turned back to excuse himself to go sign autographs for some lovely ladies queuing up to meet him; I certainly couldn't begrudge him for that.
Griffin House set list
I Remember (It's Happening Again)
Better Than Love
Standing At The Station
Man In The Long Black Coat (Bob Dylan)
Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash cover)
When The Time Is Right
Woman With The Beautiful Hair (unreleased)
The Way I Was Made
The Guy That Says Goodbye To You Is Out Of His Mind