Patty Griffin apparently never met a music style she didn’t appreciate.
Musicians have a tough time identifying what music they like. Opera may not be a favorite, but a musician will tell you about the respect they have for the score or the vocalists. Bubblegum pop may be a turn-off, but a musician will gladly hand over your choice of instrument, drop you in a studio next to a hot mic and suggest you start playing before criticizing.
Jazz great Louis Armstrong answered the question better than anyone could. “There is two kinds of music, the good and the bad.”
Patty Griffin plays everything, from up-tempo pop-rock to gospel to ballads sung in a memorable ethereal voice on the release today of her long-lost third album Silver Bell. The songs, languishing after record company sales and mergers, are now legitimately available after a remix by world-class producer Glyn Johns.
The entire album is damn good, and Satchmo would be the first to suggest incorporating tracks into one of his shows.
Some Silver Bell tracks may sound familiar, including the title track. The Dixie Chicks were just one of many artists that often covered Griffin’s songs. The title track showed up on Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines debut solo album. “Silver Bell is one brilliant song after the next,” Maines said. “I have loved this album for 13 years and didn’t think it could get better, but it has. This version has that incredible voice front and center where it always belongs.”
That’s big praise from a woman who was awarded a voice scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. With the Chicks, Maines also had the opportunity to sing two other Silver Bells tracks, Mother of God and Truth #2.
Along with the title track, Mother of God may be the single most haunting track on the album. Understated strings and a melodic piano leave plenty of room for Griffin’s voice to present lyrics that would make Bob Dylan proud.
Silver Bell’s lyrics are brilliant throughout the release, and Griffin friends Emmylou Harris and Robert Plant lend the occasional harmony. Theirs are wonderful contributions, but Griffin shines most on tracks like Top of the World. A full vocal range is backed by folk-tinged guitar over a shuffling pop beat and understated lead guitar before a single piano gives way to another vocal and a mantra-like chant by Griffin.
Johns also shows off Griffin on Perfect White Girls as a dirty, distorted bass gives way to a single piano and a slightly breathier Griffin in an uptempo track that will find its way into a movie’s soundtrack soon.
The Bottom Line, Skips and All
Fans already had a bootleg copy of Silver Bell. They don’t have this version, and they need to go get a clean Johns-produced copy. Alternately familiar and new, Silver Bell offers a great gateway into Patty Griffin’s eclectic songwriting and performance styles with updated production for those who haven’t indulged yet in a complete Patty Griffin release.