Patty Griffin's third album, her first material to be released since 1998 (the absorption of her former label, A&M, in the Polygram-Universal merger left an album Griffin cut in 2000 in the vault, where it's sadly likely to stay), strikes a stylistic middle ground between the stark voice-and-guitar approach of her debut, Living with Ghosts, and the eclectic textures of Flaming Red. 1,000 Kisses was mostly recorded live in the studio with a small acoustic band, including Doug Lancio on guitar and mandolin, Brian Standefer on cello, Giles Reeves on vibraphone and percussion, and Michael Ramos on accordion; the feel of the performances is close and intimate, with the occasional cough or footfall audible in the background, and these sessions capture more than a bit of the cinéma vérité mood of Living with Ghosts. But if the album's production style is subtle, it's also a superb match for the material, and without forcing their hand, Griffin and the musicians can sway from the life-on-the-street swagger of "Chief" to the Latin romanticism of "Mil Besos" to the torchy late-night blues of "Tomorrow Night" without missing a step, finding a broad emotional spectrum in these low-key sessions. And while 1,000 Kisses finds Griffin blending covers in with her own compositions for the first time, she proves to be a first-rate interpretive singer (her version of Bruce Springsteen's "Stolen Car" actually improves on "the Boss"' original), and her own songs are splendid, especially the moving widow's lament "Making Pies" and the moody lead-off track "Rain." And regardless of who wrote the material, Griffin's voice — a tower of strength capable of expressing remarkable emotional vulnerability — remains a wonder to behold. 1,000 Kisses finds Patty Griffin at the top of her game, and one can only hope we don't have to wait four years for the follow-up.