By Will Hermes
Updated February 02, 2007 05:00 AM

Folk-rocker Patty Griffin is also one of country music’s best songwriters, an elegant melodist who conjures complex emotions with small strokes. She’s been covered by big-name fans, from the Dixie Chicks and Martina McBride to Jessica Simpson (who credits Griffin’s ”Let Him Fly” with helping her kiss off Nick Lachey). And Children Running Through, her fifth studio album, may earn her more — it’s the showcase of a confident singer successfully diversifying.

The most breathtaking song is ”Trapeze,” a harmony-rich Emmylou Harris duet that’s a paradigm of Griffin’s empathic alt-country. She also tries dark ballads (”Someone Else’s Tomorrow”) and gospel-style R&B (”Up to the Mountain [MLK Song]”). It doesn’t all work; the Rickie Lee Jones soul of ”Stay on the Ride” misses the beatnik transcendence it’s seeking. But Griffin’s pure, mostly vibrato-free voice never misses, stretching vowels into ornate lines without oversinging.

You can imagine megastars magnifying these tunes: Natalie Maines hollering ”No Bad News,” Alicia Keys testifying on ”Up to the Mountain.” But it’s hard to imagine them bettering them. Ten years into a career that’s included two unreleased CDs and a failed major-label mass-marketing attempt, Griffin sounds sure of her own eclectic voice, and happy to let others court the mainstream for her.