Hardly anybody heard it, but Silver Bell was Patty Griffin’s most successful record – and I’m not just whistling Dixie Chicks when I say that.
The album was supposed to be released in 2000. But like a Gilligan boat ride that was supposed to be a three-hour cruise, Silver Bell got lost, a victim of a corporate turmoil involving Griffin’s then-label, A&M Records. A couple of the disc’s songs were vultured by the Dixie Chicks, who included the plaintive ballad Top of the World and the sweetly defiant shuffle Truth #2 on their multiplatinum 2002 LP Home. So, when the Chicks’ Natalie Maines was bashing an Iraq-invading president back then, some of the plucky lyrics she was warbling, such as “You don’t like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth,” were Griffin’s.
Many people like the truth and most of what else comes out of Griffin’s mouth. This “lost” album has been talked about for years, and now, in the same 2013 year that saw Griffin release her compellingly poignant album American Kid, the mostly un-rung Silver Bell is finally being heard as well, freshly mixed by the absolutely capable Glyn Johns.
It is nearly an hour long, with rarely a wasted minute. The vignettes are vivid, tuneful and hay-strewn. There are vulnerable laments, thoughtful questions and gas-guzzling rockers – a spiritually seeking Sheryl Crow in a John Deere cap, perhaps.
The deliciously hazy starter Little God is in the vaguely exotic vein of what Robert Plant likes to call “Moroccan roll.” Plant and Griffin are quite close; she’s a member of his Band of Joy, among other things.
The aforementioned Truth #2 is light-footed musically but gutsy lyrically. Boston roars tough, grand and sexy – when the day comes for Canada’s Melissa McClelland to record a full-on rock disc, it might ring like this kind of Griffin-muscle stuff.
Now that Silver Bell is out, it no longer belongs to the genre of waylaid albums, that adrift and mythologized canon which music nerds worship half-blindly. There are all sorts of reasons why albums aren’t released; sometimes the music just isn’t together. That isn’t the case with Silver Bell, and it isn’t the case with another casualty of situation, Desert Skies from the Laurel Canyon roots-psychedelians Beachwood Sparks. That record (left outside to dry in the sun back in 1997 and only released late last month) drips the doped blood of the Beach Boys and grooves harmoniously and cosmically.
“You know that it’s the feeling you’re missing, don’t you,” Sparks ask on the chunky, jangled title track to Desert Skies. “Just take it as it comes, don’t worry yourself, won’t you?”
Take it as it comes. Silver Bell was to be the third Griffin album; now it is her eighth. A few of the songs made it out, she made some good money off them, her career continued and eventually the full album was found. “There’s a whole lot of singing that’s never gonna be heard,” Griffin sings wearily on the brush-drummed regret of Top of the World, “disappearing everyday without so much as a word.”
She’s right, of course, which is all the more reason to celebrate the voices that eventually do make it through.
The week in music
Top selling albums in Canada for the week ending Dec. 8
No changes in the order of the top five LPs, as One Direction’s Midnight Memories finished ahead of Celine Dion’s Loved Me Back to Life, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Johnny Reid’s Christmas Gift to You and Katy Perry’s Prism for the second straight week.
Eminem and Rihanna’s Monster bested the Billboard Hot 100, with historic implications. Rihanna is now tied with Michael Jackson for the third-most chart-toppers ever, behind the Beatles and Mariah Carey. Eminem, meanwhile, now shares the record with Diddy and Ludacris for the most Hot 100 winners among rappers.
Albums released this week
Brendan Benson’s You Were Right, Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, Dog Day’s Fade Out, Foghat’s Live in St. Pete, Neil Young’s Live at the Cellar Door and R. Kelly’s Black Panties. B.W.