“We can listen to the world around us but in the end, it’s when we close our eyes and listen to the deepest, truest part of ourselves that we know where to begin.”
– Debra Griner
From the opening notes of Debra Griner’s new A Place To Start, it’s clear she is on a journey to look inward and communicate.
“I love to express a feeling in a room filled with people so that we can all experience it together. Kind of like saying ‘You know what I mean, right?’ I see my songs as a vehicle for that.I try to present things as I see them. I write from a place of wanting to share something and say things that are important to me.”
Track after track is anchored by that commitment. Folk icon Tom Paxton, recognized Griner, calling her “A new and welcome voice. A careful and thoughtful writer has joined the conversation!”
Recorded in Nashville and co-produced with Grammy-winning songwriter, Steve Leslie, A Place to Start features seven original songs that range from pop-country to bluegrass to a Cajun-flavored remembrance of Griner’s Louisiana roots.
Her new release follows Griner’s 2011 album, Bound to Rise, and 2013’s On the Bluegrass Trail.
Like her debut, A Place to Start shows the influence of such 1970s-era singer-songwriters as James Taylor, John Denver, Paul Simon and, most of all, Joni Mitchell.
The collection begins with “What I Wouldn’t Do,” a rolling country-folk-pop song about the first blooms of a potential relationship.
“It’s about feeling attraction, but not rushing in; about savoring the moment and the anticipation of something wonderful.”
“Beautiful Music” was written in 2020 during the darkest months of the coronavirus pandemic. In her clear, crystalline voice, she sings of music’s ability to heal.
“Laughter, Weed and Wine,” co-written with songwriter friend, Bob Sutton, pays tribute to the late singer-songwriter John Prine, the everyman poet whose songs so poignantly expressed the sentiments of the common man and woman.
Originally a personal reaction by Sutton to Prine’s death in 2020, Griner’s version of the song broadens the focus to the music community in general.
The gently nostalgic tone of “My Childhood Friend,” a song written shortly before the 2020 presidential election, masks a tragic picture of childhood friends who, torn apart by an abrasive political era that divides friends and families, can no longer communicate in the same way.
The bluegrass song, “Washin’ Dishes,” protests the consumption of single-use plastic. Here Griner draws on the musical influence of the bluegrass band, American Flyer, a group she sang with years back in Westchester, NY.
“That was an exhilarating time in my life. It was my first real band experience. I still love singing harmony.”
Childhood visits to her mother’s family in Louisiana inspired the high-spirited Cajun song, “Ruby and Mack’s.” Every other summer, Griner’s family in New Jersey drove 1,400 miles to north Louisiana, where a jam session featuring her musical uncles was always waiting.
“The song is a bit of an exaggeration, but much of it is true and the line about trucks pulling in with everybody’s kin, is definitely true! That’s how it was at my Aunt Ruby and Uncle Mack’s house— lots of people, food, music and kids running around.”
Griner’s passion for music began during her early childhood in Bergen County, New Jersey. Her father, a municipal worker, was an avid record collector and musician who played guitar, banjo, organ and accordion. His musical tastes included country greats like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. The family playlist also included folk singer, Pete Seeger, folk-rock group The Byrds and Broadway and movie musical star Julie Andrews.
But Griner’s biggest influence was the folk-jazz singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.
“I wore out that ‘Joni Mitchell Made Easy For Guitar’ book trying to play those songs I was listening to all the time. I wanted to paint pictures with words like she did and sing them over those gorgeous chord voicings.”
In addition to singing, Griner loved acting and it was the call of the theatre that brought her to New York City in her early twenties.
“I wanted to be on Broadway, sing, dance and act, so I enrolled in the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. I was dancing three times a day and doing all the things I loved to do.”
After appearing in off-Broadway productions, and on the Cabaret scene in NYC, early jobs in educational theatre awoke in Griner a desire to teach. After many years teaching - and singing - in the classroom, more and more she felt the need to pursue her dream to become a singer-songwriter.
And so, Griner turned her sites south and immersed herself in the rich and supportive creative community of Nashville.
Over the past year and a half she has honed her craft and along the way has been embraced by some of the city’s most respected writers like Rory Bourke, Buddy Mondlock, and Grammy-winners Don Henry and Jon Vezner (both of whom appear on A Place To Start).
“Here in Nashville, I’m living the life I’ve always wanted to live. I’m surrounded by top notch musicians, listening to great songwriters and becoming part of this incredible music community.”