Perhaps the most successful album of Patty Griffin’s nearly 20-year career in music is the one that never got released.
“Silver Bell,” a powerful, heartfelt collection of folk-rock songs intended for release in 2000, has sat on Universal Music’s shelves for 13 years – having gotten lost in the shuffle during a regime change at her then-label A&M Records. But two of the songs found a major audience several years later, when the Dixie Chicks made hit singles out of stark ballad “Top Of The World” and plucky empowerment anthem “Truth #2.” Other tracks, like “Making Pies” and “Mother Of God,” were re-recorded by Griffin and appeared on later albums like “1,000 Kisses” and “Impossible Dream,” respectively.
But the original recordings remained the stuff of fan legend, with leaked files circulated among fan circles for years.
But on Oct. 8, “Silver Bell” will finally get an official release — complete with new mixes by famed producer Glyn Johns (The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin), available at all major digital and physical music retailers via Universal Music Enterprises. The new version will feature 13 updated mixes of “Silver Bell”‘s original 14 tracks, plus one freshly unearthed track, “Fragile.” The tracks were initially recorded at Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studio in New Orleans, and features a guest appearance by Emmylou Harris on backing vocals for “Truth #2.” Billboard has the exclusive premiere of Griffin’s version below.
“I love revisiting that time about myself now,” Griffin says on vacation in Northern California. “I think it’s good to have the songs rescued from that time. I think if you were involved and around those big, corporate takeovers where a beverage company decided it would be a good time to buy a record label, and you weren’t doing what everybody knew to be popular at that very moment, you weren’t given any respect whatsoever.”
Case in point: Griffin recalls a meeting circa “Silver Bell”‘s intended release with then-label group boss Jimmy Iovine where, “he basically told me, ‘You have never made a good record,'” she says. “He handed me a copy of ‘Beautiful Day,’ which is a U2 record, and said, ‘Take a listen to this. This is how you write a hit record.'”
The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines tells Billboard she’s a bit bummed that “Silver Bell” is finally seeing a proper release. “Now I can’t steal from it anymore — it’s like my own personal treasure chest of Patty Griffin gold,” she says with a laugh. Indeed, Maines included a cover of “Silver Bell”s title track earlier this year on her solo debut, “Mother, ” and Griffin’s line “you don’t like the sound of the truth / coming out my mouth” from “Truth #2” became something of a mission statement for Maines in the fallout from her anti-Bush comments in 2003.
Today, Maines admits, “I wanted to remake the whole album, then I heard that it was being re-released and I was like, ‘Awww shit,'” Maines says with a laugh, then jokingly adding, “I can’t believe she’s putting out this album of Dixie Chicks cover tunes.”
Griffin had a positive experience revisiting the old “Silver Bell” mixes, as hard-rocking songs like “Boston,” the title track and “One More Girl” benefit from more front-and-center vocals and measured guitar work. She’d like to do the same for another fan favorite, 1998’s “Flaming Red,” should the opportunity present itself.
“That one had to be mixed by one of the Lord-Alges to get on the radio in the late 90s — all that would be removed,” she says. “It would be brought back to its original beauty and subtlety. They buried the vocals – why bother learning to sing? It was all about the live guitars. At the time I was too dumb to know you’re supposed to go mix and fight for it. I just didn’t know. So, there you go.”