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Patty Griffin

Silver Bell

(A&M/Universal)

Review [11.Oct.2013]

5


Patty Griffin
Silver Bell


The album no one thought would ever see the official light of day, arrived in October of this year and proved once again that there are few singer-songwriters, in any genre, as masterful as Patty Griffin. More than a decade later, after Silver Bell was egregiously discarded during the wake of a merger between A&M Records and Universal, Griffin’s gorgeous, “lost” recording remains as musically relevant as it would have been 13 years ago. The album is so startlingly brilliant, it’s a crime it’s taken this long for it it to arrive. Regardless of why it’s finally being delivered to the public, Patty is now being vindicated for all those hours she spent recording these beautiful songs in Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studios. Enlisting the talents of celebrated producer, musician and engineer Glyn Johns, Griffin wanted to ensure that her original artistic vision wouldn’t be compromised. Stripped of the glossy shine that marred it’s previous incarnation, this is how Griffin intended the record should sound. Stylistically varied but skillfully cohesive, Silver Bell is full of the deft, candid lyricism Patty has been known for since her riveting debut Living With Ghosts. Two of the album’s highlights, “Top of the World” and “Truth # 2”, wound up becoming some of the most successful songs of the Dixie Chicks’ career, and whether or not it would have similarly catapulted her into the mainstream, remains one of modern music’s little mysteries. Regardless, Silver Bell is as impressive as any of the records in her canon and as stunning a collection of songs as any artist could hope to compose. Ryan Lathan


 

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Woody Guthrie

American Radical Patriot

(Rounder)

Review [25.Oct.2013]

4


Woody Guthrie
American Radical Patriot


This is a set that complicates the myth of Woody Guthrie. For one, much of this recording was done for the US Government, which in and of itself seems odd for a songwriter seen historically as so radical. But this set does something remarkable in juxtaposing these commissioned songs with his more rambling recordings with Alan Lomax. It shows us not the true Guthrie (in the Lomax recordings) and the Guthrie doing what he can to make some money (for the government), but a man who clearly understood and was fascinated by the works of man, by the force of labor, and by what little returns that labor was compensated. He was a man as eager to tell the story of his people and his land as he was eager to be a part of historically great projects. He was a true artist and, in the end, a man who was sold by RCA Records and the BPA and others because his radical streak fit a narrative they needed it to. He wasn’t used. He didn’t compromise. But those he worked for got what they wanted. In that way he was an American Radical Patriot. But he was also all three, sometimes moving from one to the other or bleeding them together. American. Radical. Patriot. Matthew Fiander


 

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Otis Redding

The Complete Stax/Volt Singles Collection

(Shout! Factory)

Review [1.Aug.2013]

3


Otis Redding
The Complete Stax/Volt Singles Collection


Mono. That’s how Otis Redding and the other musicians heard their sessions in playback. That’s how their recordings were mastered and pressed and presented to the public. That’s also what makes The Complete Stax/Volt Singles Collection such a wonderful set, for never before have his singles been presented in mono on CD. There were no half-measures when it came to a Redding performance, and Shout! Factory has made sure that none were taken on this box set. From the first track Redding recorded, the man sang like each song, no each word, was the last he would put on 1” tape. It’s what makes this set so compelling; a lesser song like “I’m Sick Y’all” (the b-side to “Try a Little Tenderness”) gets as impassioned a vocal as the classic a-side. Though there are essential Redding albums like Otis Blue, but the singles are where the depth and breadth of his talents are most apparent. Erik Highter


 

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Townes Van Zandt

Sunshine Boy - The Unheard Studio Sessions

(Omnivore)

Review [4.Apr.2013]

2


Townes Van Zandt
Sunshine Boy - The Unheard Studio Sessions


The market for posthumous releases is a bit ridiculous. Dead stars have new product out every year, mainly repackaging or offering just slight variations on existing material. This two-disc Townes Van Zandt release found me skeptical before I heard it; the songs themselves, as great as they all are, are mainly ones he recorded, once or several times. Then again, just hearing his voice again tends to cut right through your bones, especially when it’s stripped down, like on the second “demos” disc. It is true that Van Zandt’s studio albums tended to awkwardly overdress his songs, and his live albums (especially 1977’s Live at the Old Quarter, Houston Texas) find him at his best. That context is what makes these demos so vital, and as powerful as anything Van Zandt, a true American legend, recorded. Dave Heaton


 

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Nirvana

In Utero (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

(Geffen)

1


Nirvana
In Utero (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)


Never has it been more fitting to look back on an album 20 years later than with Nirvana‘s final album, In Utero. Two decades can, to put it mildly, alter our perceptions and, more importantly, our memories. So, is it possible for an album to be better now, than it was when it was first released? In Utero can answer that question: yes, it certainly is possible. One of the heaviest, cathartic, and brutal albums of its time, In Utero is also equally pristine, melodic, and mangled. Credit much of its sustainability to the well-oiled machine that Nirvana had become in 1993 and also to producer extraordinaire Steve Albini, whose newly issued mixes round out the extra tracks on this deluxe edition. In Utero was powerful upon its release. In the rearview it’s a towering indictment of fame and consumerism. In the long view, it’s a document of sheer raw aggression and a complete summation of the last decent musical high. And that makes it one of the few discs worth revisiting again and again. Scott Elingburg


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