The almost innocuous opening to the album and first single, My Brain Exploded, proves to be emblematic of a release that embraces simplicity in lyrics, arrangements and performance, yet somehow reaches surprising depths. As the CD’s inside cover sheet quickly relates, this Bernie Griffen album was recorded on the other side of the Tasman, and on the other side of an in-flight medical incident that left Griffen unconscious for days in a Brisbane hospital.
“…oh Lord, I feel like hell” he sings on Emigrant Song (swhdt?) in one of what seems plentiful references to the brush with death that he endured and survived, with the loving aid of partner Kirsten Warner.
Whether in gratitude or just as likely because of his evident poor health, the singing duties are alternated with Warner, making ‘Doors Wide Open’ much more a duo effort than his previous me-and-my-band recordings.
Though evidently uncomfortable about taking the lead, Warner’s voice proves admirably up to the task under the gentle, uncluttered production of Luke Plumb.
At moments she even reminds of English folk legend Sandy Denny, but fragility is part of this album’s DNA, and the fact that her vocals aren’t always confident actually works to reflect Griffen’s frailty and the raw emotional context of his (mostly) lyrics.
Besides, Griffen’s own singing has never been technically strong, his voice rather reflective of the barren harshnesses of life that he typically writes of; “… love will always give you pain,” (Laura Jane), “I wish you could hear what I’m saying,” (Sweet Obsession). The very simple accordion-led country waltz of The Wedding Song provides a brief musical counterpoint, uplifting but still heavily shadowed (“I don’t care if you just pretend that you love me,”) in a bleak Twin Peaks’ manner, summing up just how well the two work together here.
Many a great folk album has been born of adversity and the wider you open these doors the more this one grows to fill the room.