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** 1/2 PATTY GRIFFIN, "Flaming Red," A&M

June 21, 1998|Elysa Gardner

For her 1996 debut, "Living With Ghosts," Griffin used lean acoustic arrangements that put her fiery, supple soprano front and center, inviting comparisons to gritty virtuosos such as Bonnie Raitt and Maria McKee. On this more lushly produced follow-up effort, though, Griffin seems to be mutating into Sarah McLachlan. While some of the new tunes rock--the brief but fervid title track, for instance, or the sinuous, darkly sexy "Wiggley Fingers"--many just meander along, awash in the sort of pristine atmospherics that weigh down too much contemporary roots-pop.

There are, to be fair, moments of seductive sweetness and even effervescence amid all this tameness. The ballad "One Big Love" is irresistibly tender, and the electric guitar-fueled "Blue Sky" shimmers buoyantly. But even the more vibrant tunes on "Flaming" don't allow Griffin to make use of the impressive emotional and technical range she revealed on her feistier, more incendiary first effort. Griffin would do well to try to recapture some of that old spark next time out.

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