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Patty Griffin - Unearths a lost treasure
on October 8, 2013
Record companies are just plain weird. "Sliver Bell" was recorded by Patty Griffin as a follow up to her 1998 album Flaming Red, but it went unreleased by her label at the time, A&M records. The reasons for this are still unclear but centre on two theories. The first is that it essentially got lost in the shuffle due to a change in ownership of the label at the time. The second and possibly more likely of the two is that some tuneless dimwit felt that it sounded too much like her previous effort. Indeed Griffin has mentioned the role of the usually impeccable Jimmy Iovine who told Griffin that "You have never made a good record,'" and then handed her a copy of U2s 'Beautiful Day,' and said, 'Take a listen to this. This is how you write a hit record.'" Oh dear me Mr Iovine, shame on you!
"Silver Bell" was recorded in March 2000 at Daniel Lanois's Kingsway Studio in New Orleans. The musicians were Patty Griffin (vocals, guitar, piano), Doug Lancio (guitar), John Deaderick (keyboards), Frank Swart (bass), and Billy Beard (percussion). To have the album released some 13 years after it was first recorded and now remixed by Glyn Johns is a long overdue treat. Many Griffin fans will already own the widely circulated bootleg of this set and in essence the track order remains the same. In the interim a couple of the songs have also appeared on other releases. The most famous of these is "Top of the World" which appeared on 2004's "Impossible Dream" and later received a high profile cover from the Dixie Chicks. The version on "Silver Bell" is different with more of a bar room ballad feel but Griffin's voice is a magnificent instrument on both takes. The Dixie Chicks also covered the excellent empowerment anthem "Truth # 2" which is probably the song on this release which would have best fitted in "Flaming Red". Other tracks like the hard rocking "Boston" and the almost Eastern sounding "Little God" clearly benefit from the new mix with the vocals on both far more front and centre than the previous unreleased version. Alternatively some songs here do not work particularly the rather distorted "Perfect White Girls" which while a bold experiment is far from being a Griffin classic. The title track will also challenge her traditional fan base since it is almost a punk thrash, although over the years it has grown on this reviewer. The bass heavy "Sorry and Sad" does prove however that Griffin can do soft rock with some panache. As the album proceeds there is much to admire not least the gentle blues of "Sooner or Later" and the one newly released track "Fragile" is excellent. The standouts nonetheless pick themselves. "Mother of God" predates a part of the melody on "Burgundy Shoes" and is a heartbreaking classic worth the price of entry in its own right with the next song "One more girl" almost matching it. The moody "Driving" is pure pop excellence whilst concluding track "So long" is a rough hewn Appalachian lament and is charming.
Like all "lost albums" legends have grown around "Silver Bell" reinforced by Natalie Maines description of it as her secret treasure trove. Factors such as this and its selective leaking over the years has led some to claim it Griffin's best album. 'Silver Bell" is a rock solid album with some classic songs but it is not Griffin's most consistent or finest release. That honour goes to the brilliant "1000 Kisses". Still after all this time it is great to legally complete the released canon of Griffin's work and "Silver Bell" is a very worthy addition to the songwriting credits of a truly great American artist.