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Patty Griffin

Silver Bell (Universal)

Reviewed by Abby Johnston, Fri., Oct. 11, 2013

Texas Platters

The Dixie Chicks must be disappointed. They've borrowed often from Patty Griffin's lost disc Silver Bell, which sat on a shelf of the local songbird's then-label, A&M Records, for 13 years. The Chicks made good use of down-home folk-pop "Truth #2" and the longing acoustic address of "Top of the World," while frontwoman Natalie Maines recently used the album's untamed title track as a highlight of her solo debut. The once-local trio may have paid fitting homage, but as soon as Griffin's country-lilted alto kicks in, Maines and company are exposed as dutiful imitators. With new mixes from original producer Glyn Johns (the Who, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin), Griffin's varied folk-rock collection marks another high-water mark in her beautifully arcing career. The twanged guitar waltz "So Long" sounds like familiar territory, powerful and understated, a bareness furthered with stilling piano ballad "Mother of God," which appears here in its original iteration. Better still, despite her folk signatures, Griffin doesn't shy from power chords. "Boston" unfurls as restless as its story, its riffs primed for a roofless road trip, while "Silver Bell" rips through the serene remains of acoustic guitar and barrels toward full-tilt rockdom. The contrast doesn't end with folk and rock. Griffin goes noir with Eastern-tinged, slow burner "Little God," switching gears three songs later with the warped electronic bass and bluesy vocals of "Perfect White Girls," which wouldn't be out of place on a Depeche Mode album. Who knows how Patty Griffin's career trajectory might have differed if Silver Bell had been released in 2000, but we're happy to have it now. Maybe the only thing more impressive than the album itself is how she kept it a secret for this long. (Patty Griffin plays Stubb's tonight, Thursday, Oct. 10.)

***.5

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