After taking some time off to battle breast cancer, Patty Griffin is back with new music.
The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter is set to release her eponymous 10th studio album on Mar. 8 — and PEOPLE is exclusively premiering the first song off of the new project called, “River.”
“It’s one of the last songs I wrote for this record,” Griffin, 54, tells PEOPLE. “We recorded it over about a year’s time. I had been spending a lot of time with this song that Leon Russell wrote and Donnie Hathaway recorded in the ’70s called ‘A Song For You.’ I actually covered that song at a show, and I thought it would be great to have my own — which is kind of a high order. There’s something about that particular song that made me feel like it’s an aerial view of a moment in life. The emotion of that song inspired me.”
“River” is just a preview of Griffin’s deeply personal new 13-track album. As she sings the lyrics, “Takes an army just to bend her/Be careful where you send her/‘Cause you can’t hold her back for long/A river is just too strong/And she’s a river,” one can’t help but guess she’s singing about her own life story after recently battling — and defeating — breast cancer, but Griffin says she hasn’t thought about it that way.
“There isn’t really much of a thought process beyond playing the notes, hopefully, in a fashion that can be understood,” she says. “But when I sit back and I listen back to it and sing it now, I can feel this is sort of an expansive understanding of life. I’m older, I’m about to be double nickels – 55 – , and you’re closer to death when you’re my age and you kind of turn that corner where that’s the next fantastic place you’re going to go. You have this understanding of continuity that grows out of that feeling.”
Prior to recording the new album — which is her first since 2015’s Servant of Love— Griffin spent some time out of the spotlight after receiving her breast cancer diagnosis two years ago.
“I think life comes in different packages, and I had the cancer package for a little while that I had to get myself through,” she says. “I had some physical disabilities that really impaired my ability to do my work for a while, and I had a lot to get myself through in order to, with some great difficulty, do what I used to do very easily and naturally.”
“But it also brought about these great, new places that I found out about while I was struggling along,” she continues. “I think that has been true of all the work I’ve ever done, but this was the more recent phase of that and maybe a little more struggle than before.”
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Before being diagnosed, Griffin says she “felt like sh— for a long time.”
“I was sick a lot,” …read more