Friday , February 23 2024
Recorded for A&M Records in 2000 but never before released, Griffin's "lost" album finally sees the light of day.

Music Review: Patty Griffin – ‘Silver Bell’

Patty Griffin‘s “lost” album, recorded in 2000 for A&M Records but never released amid label takeovers and re-shuffles, has finally seen the light of day, and it’s a fiery light. patty-griffin-silver-bell-cover-artGriffin is in full-on “flaming red” mode on many of these 14 songs, with barrages of guitars and drums and fuzz.

It’s a hard-rocking mode very different from the quieter songs and ballads for which she has become best known, some of which turn up in between the rockers here. They include the original recording of “Top of the World,” which became a monster hit for the Dixie Chicks in 2002 leading many music fans to discover Griffin for the first time. “Truth #2,” which the Dixie Chicks also recorded, appears here with Griffin and guest Emmylou Harris in exquisite, slightly off-timed vocal harmonies.

The CD opens with one of its best tracks, the dirge-like minor-key “Little God.” Add some power chords to this hallucinatory number and it could easily be a Metallica song. The folksy “Truth #2” could hardly be more different, as the narrator plaintively asks, “Why must we be so afraid / And always so far apart?” But then comes “Boston” in which, after a fake-out country beginning, churning power chords plunge us into Velvet Underground territory. That’s followed by “Perfect White Girls” with a grim melody over an almost-comically fuzzed-out guitar, and then the gentle pop of “Sooner or Later,” with a faint pop-funk reminiscent of Kim Richey.

Crunching aggression and soft beauty alternate from song to song – the punked-out title track, the spare acoustic waltz “So Long,” the quietly insistent “Fragile,” the gritty mid-tempo rock of “Driving” that reminds me of Patti Smith – but always, there is that voice. Griffin could sing the user manual to my Epson printer and I’d listen. patty-griffin_silver-430Her voice is an instrument choked with the essence of emotion – not a single emotion, like grief or regret, though there’s plenty of those, but something like the Platonic ideal of Emotion itself. Shining or shouting, slinking or keening, it’s a voice as unmistakeable as Dolly Parton’s or Bob Dylan’s.

This seems a good time to mention that the narrator of “One More Girl” is conscious of the way an audience objectifies a performer. “You turn me into some novelty / Guess I’m one more girl on the stage / Just one more ass that got stuffed in some jeans…Did you ever take the time / To think about who I might be? / Where I’ve been, what I’m thinking, who I love, what I feel?” It’s a complaint many people who find themselves unappreciated in a relationship could relate to, but this narrator is a performer. And on stage, fortunately for us, the real Patty Griffin comes across as anything but resentful or unappreciated. I don’t know if you’re likely to hear many songs from this album at her concerts, though “Top of the World” will probably never get old. But it took me only two listens to fall for this record.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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