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NANCI GRIFFITH: ONE FAIR SUMMER EVENING...PLUS!

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Nanci Griffith, James Hooker, Denice Franke, Doug Hudson
Director: Bud Schaetzle
Audio: English Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS 5.1
Subtitles: None
Video: Color, full-frame
Studio: Universal Music
Features: Five music videos
Length: 61 minutes
Release Date: February 1, 2005

And maybe you were thinking that you thought you knew me well,

But no one ever knows the heart of anyone else's,

I feel like Garbo in this late night Grande Hotel,

'Cause living alone is all I've ever done well.

Film ***1/2

Nanci Griffith is perhaps today's premier folk music singer-songwriter.  A soft-spoken Texan native with a gift for intimate and poetic songs, Nanci frequently sings with tender conviction about relationships and working-class difficulties.  Possessing a style full of grace and sincerity, this former kindergarten teacher has been drawing admiration for her heartfelt brand of music since her 1978 debut album, There's A Light Beyond These Woods.

Nanci's early albums were a mixture of country and folk.  Independently produced and released, these albums reflected a grass roots, rural and working-class mentality.  Towards the mid-1980's, however, Nanci Griffith signed with MCA, which then embarked upon a mission to increase public awareness of this fine singer's music.

Nanci recorded five albums for MCA, the third of which was her first live release, One Fair Summer Evening (1988).  The release of this album coincided with the release of a concert video of the same name, edited from her performances in August 1988 at the Anderson Fair in Houston, Texas.  Essentially an acoustic album, One Fair Summer Evening remains a fan favorite to this day, and while it pre-dates some of her best works (the Grammy-winning Other Voices, Other Rooms and Flyer), the music presented on this live album represents some of Nanci Griffith's finest songs and clearly demonstrates why she was already considered one of the leading poets in American music at this early stage in her career.

One Fair Summer Evening...Plus! brings the concert video to DVD for the first time.  The songs are performed with only sparse arrangements, with James Hooker on keyboards backing Nanci on her acoustic guitar (and occasional back-up vocals from Denice Franke and Doug Hudson).  As with the album itself, the concert remains another fan favorite and offers first-time viewers a nostalgic look at Nanci Griffith nearing the height of her popularity.  Listed below are the songs which comprise the concert footage:

1) Once In A Very Blue Moon - A sweet ballad about the emotional aftermath of a broken relationship, this title track from Nanci's third album opens the concert.  For those not in the know, a blue moon is that rare second full moon that occurs within a single month.

2) More Than A Whisper - A bittersweet lament about a lonely woman's search for love, this song and the next two come from Nanci's fourth album, Last of the True Believers (1986).  This is one of Nanci's most beautiful tunes and is certainly a highlight of the concert itself.

3) Love At the Five and Dime - This song tells a tale of new love for two young lovers.  The song also showcases Nanci's gift for narration as well as creative guitar-playing.

4) Looking For the Time (Working Girl) - This humorous tune is an upbeat jingle about, of all things, the humanistic side of streetwalkers.

5) Deadwood, South Dakota - Previously unrecorded by Nanci, this quiet and sad song touches indirectly upon historical social inequality for Native Americans.

6) Workin' In Corners - This song comes from Nanci's second album, Poet in My Window (1982).  It is a bittersweet tune about solitude and loneliness.  This song can also be heard playing over the DVD main menu.

7) From A Distance - From Nanci's fifth album, Lone Star State of Mind (1987), this Julie Gold-penned tune is probably most familiar to listeners from Bette Midler's much-later pop version of it.  Nanci's rendition has a more folksy twang (of course) and receives a warmth reception here from the Anderson Fair audience.  This song was Nanci's first Country Top 40 hit in America and a huge hit in Ireland.

8) I Would Bring You Ireland - The other previously unrecorded song by Nanci on this DVD, this optimistic song is one of hope and aspirations for the future mixed with reminiscences about the past.  This song is a tribute to Nanci's multitude of Irish fans, who have afforded her near-superstar status in the United Kingdom.

9) Spin On A Red Brick Floor - Another song from Nanci's second album, this upbeat tune is a cheerful dedication to Anderson Fair itself and all the wonderful bygone memories of folk and bluegrass performances upon its floors.

10) There's A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret) - The title track to Nanci's debut album (1978), this melancholy song is dedicated to a childhood friend.  It chronicles how the friendship, despite changing from the dreams and optimism of youth through the reality of adulthood, has persevered through the years.

11) Wichita Falls Waltz - Nanci sings this short a capella tune over the closing credits.  With this tune, she demonstrates a winsome flair for encouraging audience participation.

Owners of the One Fair Summer Evening CD will notice track differences between the CD and the 44-minute concert footage.  In particular, Roseville Fair, Trouble in the Fields, and The Wing and the Wheel are replaced in the concert video by There's A Light Beyond These Woods and Wichita Falls Waltz.  Also, the versions of the songs are not necessarily the same in the concert as on the CD.

First-time listeners who enjoy the concert of One Fair Summer Evening may wish to seek out some of Nanci Griffith's earlier releases.  The release of this DVD was timed to coincide with the U.S. release of Nanci's latest CD, Hearts in Mind (2005), an album praised as Nanci's finest studio effort since Flyer.  After nearly three decades of performance, Nanci Griffith still remains one of the finest singer-songwriters around today.

Video *1/2

There isn't really much to recommend here from a visual standpoint.  The original concert footage looked fairly grainy and indistinct even on VHS, and the transfer to DVD has not been significantly enhanced.  Skin tone is slightly reddish, and definition is definitely lacking at times with much graininess and blockiness.  To be fair, these may all be inherent properties of the original footage, shot in a mostly dark, nightclub setting.  Understandably, the image can become downright muddy in far shots but reveals more details in close-ups.  Still, with an average transfer rate of only 5 Mbps, the lackluster image quality has room for improvement.

The picture fares better on the music videos offered as bonus tracks.  These music videos feature a higher average bit transfer rate of 6.5 Mbps.  Furthermore, since they were filmed mostly in daylight or with better lighting facilities, the detail levels are much finer.

Audio ****

Here is way the DVD truly shines!  Listeners have the option of choosing a stereo track, a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, or a DTS 5.1 track.  The stereo and Dolby tracks have a warmer and richer quality, while the DTS track possesses more distinct audio separation among the speakers and has a more significant bass tonal quality.  Plus, the DTS track is definitely louder, too.

Features **

Following One Fair Summer Evening, Nanci's next album, Storms (1989), her fourth for MCA and eighth overall, unveiled a shift towards a more polished, pop-oriented sound.  To promote Nanci's "new" sound, music videos were produced for some of these new songs.  As a bonus feature (the ...Plus! portion of this DVD), those videos (17 min.) are presented here.  While they are slightly atypical of the folk sound that defined Nanci's early career and her subsequent career after leaving MCA, the tunes in these videos still demonstrate Nanci's strong songwriting skills.

1) I Knew Love - This achingly-tender love song comes from 1987's Little Love Affairs, Nanci's first album for MCA..  This simply-photographed music video concentrates mainly on Nanci and the song itself with little in the way of visual flair.  It is quite an effective video, the only downside being the dated so-80's hairdo sported by Nanci.  The song also became Nanci's second Country Top 40 hit.

2) It's A Hard Life Wherever You Go - This Irish-like folk tune is a precautionary chronicle of the hardships suffered by children for the sins of the fathers.  This song of social commentary comes from the Storms album.

3) I Don't Want To Talk About Love - This is a gem of a love ballad, also from Storms.  Nanci Griffith frequently looks quite beautiful in this black & white video.  Of her songs to date, I Don't Want To Talk About Love is probably the most pop-like yet still maintains her distinctive, folk-like quality.

4) Late Night Grande Hotel - This is the title track from Nanci's fifth and final MCA album, released in 1991.  Among her videos, this one looks most like a "normal" pop video, with Nanci cavorting about in a strangely puffy prom dress.  The song also possesses the production values of a pop-radio tune although at its core remains a heartfelt folk song about loneliness.

5) Well Alright (w/ The Crickets) - This is a cover of a Buddy Holly tune from the 1996 tribute album Not Fade Away (Remembering Buddy Holly).  It's quite infectious catchy and is also the song that plays over the "Features" menu on the DVD.

Summary:

Nanci Griffith is one of the most gifted folk singer-songwriters of our generation.  With just over an hour of music in total, One Fair Summer Evening...Plus! serves as a wonderful introduction to the folk music sensibilities of Nanci Griffith in concert and in her music videos.

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