Silver Bell is the latest release by Maine’s Patty Griffin. Originally recorded in 2000, Silver Bell actually has quite the history to it. The songs were tracked at Kingsway Studio in New Orleans, where Griffin was accompanied by Doug Lancio on guitars, John Deaderick on keyboards, Frank Swart on bass, and Billy Beard on percussion. After the album initially went unreleased by A & M records, bootlegged copies of the album leaked, and it quickly built a reputation for itself as one of Griffin’s best collections of songs. In fact, before Silver Bell was mixed by Glyn Johns and officially released, a handful of the album’s songs had already been re-interpreted and released by artists such as Joan Osborne and The Dixie Chicks. Now, in 2013, what we ultimately get with the release of Silver Bell is an eclectic mix of styles and sounds that all receive a touch of Griffin’s inimitable alternative country.
The album starts off with one of its less traditional compositions, Little Gods. Then, Truth #2, which features harmony vocals by Emylou Harris, quickly introduces us to the album’s distinctly Americana side. On Truth #2, a down-home, upbeat rhythm lies beneath lyrics that expose the bitter tensions capable of ruining sweet love. As the album progresses, Griffin continues her varied mix of roots music and 90s alternative with Perfect White Girls, which boasts the album’s most provocative guitar tone, and Sooner Or Later, which verges on the side of rhythm and blues.
Next is What You Are, one of those simple, easygoing pop songs that can appeal to almost anyone. Here, Griffin’s adroit harmony layering mingles with a major key, just before she reminds us that she is also capable of bringing an edge to her music with the album’s grungy title track. After Silver Bell, though, the album enters a brief lull. But before long, Driving, brings things back to life with grooves that seem to emulate The Rolling Stones and a carefully placed section of hard driving, straightforward rock ‘n’ roll.
So what can be said about Patty Griffin that hasn’t been said already? Her voice has an exceptionally clean tone and her lyrics simultaneously tell stories and paint pictures. She has won a number of awards and has been covered by countless artists. With a brand of alt-country that is unabashed about exploring new territory, she reminds me of the female version of Vic Chesnutt. Furthermore, her songwriting is immediately lovable. It was a long time coming for Patty Griffin and Silver Bell, but Glyn Johns’ mix is superb and was worth the wait.
The album ends with the track, So Long. It is the most classically Americana composition on the album, and is a gleaming note with which to end the record. This song is a pensive elegy that has the richness and hominess of any great American folk song, and yet, for all of the song’s sorrow, it has a remarkable beauty that left me with a soft smile as the album came to a close. For fans of Wilco and Drive-By Truckers, Silver Bell is a must hear and will become an instant favorite.