When you hear the term “lost album,” chances are it conjures images of tortured genius Brian Wilson unable to finish his magnum opus Smile, or Prince deciding that The Black Album was evil and shelving its release, juicy stuff like that. Alas, the story is a bit more mundane for Patty Griffin, whose intended third album, Silver Bell, was recorded in 2000 but got lost in the shuffle of a record company ownership change.
All’s well that ends well though, because the timing couldn’t be better for the release of Silver Bell after all these years. After all, Griffin is riding high off the success of American Kid, her outstanding disc from earlier this year. Having this long-awaited album come down the pike is like an embarrassment of riches for her fans.
The most famous songs on Silver Bell are “Truth #2” and “Top Of The World,” which were included by The Dixie Chicks on their mega-selling 2002 album Home. Griffin’s versions feature her unique vocal stylings, which often erupt from low, slurred mumbles into piercing notes that soar above everything. On “Truth #2,” she gets help on harmonies from Emmylou Harris, while on the staggeringly great “Top Of The World,” her performance exposes every wound of the regret-wracked souls who populate the song.
Griffin gets lumped in with alt-country and Americana and the like, but she’s always been a bit too prickly and restless an artist to be easily contained by any one genre. That’s evident on Silver Bell, where the title track, “Sorry And Sad,” and “Boston” thrash and slash with abandon, while “Perfect White Girls” rides a distorted, grinding rhythm into a thick funk. Opening track “Little God,” with its eerie guitar riffs and Griffin’s wild screams at the end, calls to mind “The End” by The Doors.
Those raw moments are balanced nicely by soulful tracks like the Muscle Shoals-influenced “Sooner Or Later” and the delicate “What You Are.” Whereas her lyrics are subordinated a bit on the harder-edged tracks in favor of brash attitude, the slower songs showcase her skill of making seemingly plainspoken words reveal deep truths and potent emotions.
The album gets stronger as it progresses. The second half not only contains “Top Of The World,” but also a pair of gorgeous waltzes, “One More Girl” and “So Long,” that rise from humble beginnings into powder kegs. These are songs that would have been classics in the Griffin canon had they seen the light of day 13 years ago. Better late than never with material this good.
So don’t be deceived by the lack of drama surrounding the initial shelving of Patty Griffin’s Silver Bell. It may not have a story of a lost classic, but it has the music of a freshly discovered treasure.