Midway through her two-hour set at the Wiltern Theater Saturday night, Patty Griffin compared Texas to L.A. “A lot of disreputable things happen there, along with a lot of great things all at the same time,” she said, tossing back her hair and the strap of a fresh guitar round her shoulder. “It’s kind of like L.A.” There were some friendly laughs from the audience, a request for “Take it With Me” from the back of the room. But no one whooped or whistled, the way crowds sometimes do, at the mention of our city. Truth is, we could have been in Austin. We could have been in the Deep South.
That’s because Griffin’s latest album, Downtown Church, revives songs by gospel greats like Alfred Karnes, Hank Williams and The Staple Singers, and it’s also because Griffin’s sharp, soulful voice is transportive. She sang hits like “Standing,” “Little Fire,” and “Heavenly Day” with true emotion, then bantered with her band and singer-songwriter Buddy Miller between songs (Miller produced and plays on Downtown Church and is touring as Griffin’s opening act). Griffin followed a lush rendition of “A House of Gold,” which opens the album and was released by Hank Williams & the Drifting Cowboys in 1954, with a too-short encore and then we were right back in L.A. Perhaps a little closer to the past, and better for it.