Strange that one of the better releases of the year is a “lost” album recorded in 2000 and buried under corporate mergers as independent labels were swallowed up. Patty Griffin’s Silver Bell was shelved when A&M merged with Universal even though her last recording Flaming Red had been a minor hit. Griffin soldiered on eventually winning a Grammy as she built up a reputation similar to that of Lucinda Williams while The Dixie Chicks plucked Truth #2 and Top of the World from a bootleg of the album and recorded them for their best selling album Home.
Now, 13 years later we can hear the album although it’s not exactly the artifact that would have hit the shelves back then. Two songs, Making Pies and Standing were recorded on later albums and disappear here. In addition Griffin has tried to remove any vestiges of turn of the century studio affectations by having famed producer Glynn Johns remix the tapes. The result is an opportunity to hear Griffin in a period of transition from the rousing rock of Flaming Red towards a more measured song writing style although several of the songs end up somewhat in between. The opening song Little God bodes well with its hypnotic trance like introduction leading into a trippy cadence with biting and ferocious guitar licks weaving in and out. Griffin sings lustily over the arabesque music which interestingly enough predates her current beau, Robert Plant’s own adventures in that direction with his Band of Joy. Whatever it’s a tremendous song and it’s a pity that there’s little else on the album to compare to it. Griffin does delve into various genres with Perfect White Girls‘ fuzz bass and clamorous guitar and drums bringing to mind PJ Harvey, Sorry and Sad lurching unsteadily into power pop territory and the title song’s pell mell thrash seemingly missing out on John’s deconstruction as Griffin wails away.
Her future direction is indicated in the country stylings of Truth #2 (where she’s accompanied by Emmylou Harris) and a brace of wonderful ballads which are dreamy and allow her succulent voice full rein. What You Are is an atmospheric swoon not too dissimilar from Harris’ efforts on Wrecking Ball ( Griffin recorded the album in Daniel Lanois’ studio although he doesn’t appear to have been involved in the recording). She continues in this vein on Fragile and Top of The World while So Long and Mother of God are stripped down to the bare essentials allowing Griffin’s voice to shine.