Griffith moves out of the country scene : Griffith’s Switch

Nanci Griffith is crossing over from country to pop.

Don’t fret--you won’t mistake this for a Dolly Parton “Here You Come Again” move any more than you’d mistake the bookish, homespun Texan for the glitzy owner of Dollywood.

But the folkish singer-songwriter’s upcoming “Storms” album (due in August) will be handled by MCA Records’ Universal City-based pop department after her last three albums were marketed through the company’s Nashville-based country division. But for the soft-spoken artist, the switch is more one of terminology than of style.

“I don’t care what I’m called as long as I’m called,” said Griffith, 35, looking something like a younger sister of Shelley Duvall as she sat in an MCA office.


“I’ve always been marketed as pop in Europe,” she continued. “That’s my biggest market. Plus, country radio and I are allergic to each other, and there was a lot of pressure to have hits.

“I sell records, I stay in the black. I was selling more albums than some of MCA’s artists who had No. 1 hits on country radio. But I got my hands slapped for not having hits. If it’s not working and it’s causing me a headache, then I want out, which is what happened.

“To be fair to country radio, I don’t listen to it, so why should I have ever expected them to listen to me?,” said the singer, who moved to Nashville from Austin three years ago. “Barbara Mandrell is not my idea of a good time.”

In truth, there’s not much difference between the new “pop” album and the old “country” records.


Griffith still weaves sharp-eyed character studies and short stories in a style inspired by such Southern prose writers as Larry McMurtry and Eudora Welty. They’ve caught the attention of Bruce Springsteen, who has recorded a duet with Patti Scialfa of Griffith’s “Gulf Coast Highway” for possible inclusion on Scialfa’s upcoming debut album.

Still, “Storms” reflects changes taking place in Griffith’s life that go beyond a switch in marketing strategy.

“1988 was a hard year, personally, for me,” Griffith said, noting that the grueling tour schedule she has kept up for virtually her whole adult life has begun to take its toll.

“I’ve been saying for five or six years that I want to try some character acting and I want to spend more time on my prose,” said Griffith, who has written two unpublished novels. “And I can’t do that on the road.”


Character acting?

“I’m open to anything,” she said. “I’m at that age where I can do a lot of characters. I’m getting little lines in my face.”