Almost any artist who has been around for any length of time has a stack of unreleased songs lying around. Most of the time, these poor tracks get the short end of the musical stick, put onto box sets as "rarities" to convince people to buy music they already own or slapped together haphazardly to make "new albums" for deceased artists, which is how Tupac Shakur was making "new music" a decade after his death. It's rare that an entire album that has been written and recorded in the middle of an artist's creative peak just disappears. But that's what happened withPatty Griffin's 2000 album "Silver Bell", which is getting its first official release to the public on Oct. 8 from Universal.
"Silver Bell" was recorded as the follow up to Griffin's blockbuster 1998 album "Flaming Red" but fell victim to a turn of the century ownership change and shift in direction at A&M Records. While "Top of the World" and "Truth #2" provided major hits for The Dixie Chicks and Griffin herself recorded some of the album's songs like "Mother of God" and "Making Pies" for subsequent albums, the original recordings have become the Holy Grail for Griffin collectors.
The original Daniel Lanois produced album has been re-mixed by legendary producer Glyn Johns and the songs are truly vintage Griffin. In addition to the songs people know from other albums, there are plenty of standout tracks on "Silver Bell." The opening number, "Little God", is Patty Griffin at her haunting best, with lyrics like "shake, little god, shake your little fist. All the strippers think you're odd, but you leave the biggest tips" reminding us of why no one turns a lyrical phrase like she does.
For those who liked the more rocking feel of "Flaming Red", there's plenty to love here too. "Boston" starts out with a jaunty acoustic strum and hum but quickly turns electric before Griffin's vocals come in. It's the heaviest song on the album and one of the best. "Perfect White Girls" is a funky and snarky romp that takes on a little bit of the New Orleans atmosphere it was recorded in.
For slower numbers, "Mother of God" provides a beautiful if searing piano ballad, "Truth #2" provides a little acoustic guitar hop with some stellar harmony vocals from Emmylou Harris, and "Fragile" is as delicate as the name implies.
"Silver Bell" is the rare complete album of unreleased material that comes highly recommended for hardcore fans and casual ones both. It's a crime that it took 13 years to get this album on the shelves because it's some of the best work of Patty Griffin's career.