Gillian Welch

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Real radicalism doesn't come bulldozing towards you, waving its primary-coloured flags and raising imagined arms towards an inexpertly perceived future. It doesn't shout at you. Neither does it come trotting up to you and licking your face like an ineptly trained puppy. It simply pitches up its tent and sets up its stall. Thus was Gil Evans a thousand times as radical as Giuseppe Logan. Hence was Sibelius a hundred times as radical as Hindemith. And thus it is that I have to inform you that the most radical record of the last 12 months was not conceived in a DJ mixing booth in south-western Australia, did not emanate from the Winstanley Estate in south-west London but rather was recorded on two guitars with occasional banjo and mandolin in a vintage studio in Nashville which in the past was utilised by Elvis Presley. The record is "Time (The Revelator)" by Gillian Welch. Assisted by her partner David Rawlings. Two impeccably-dressed actors - too impeccable to be real; not enough dirt on her boots, not enough creases in his suit.

But then that's the point. Starting with four defiantly hammered-out flattened-fifth chords, the tolling of a bell not quite concurrent with that of St John the Divine, Welch sets out her particular stall from the first line of the first track "Revelator."

"Darling, remember, when you come to me/I'm the pretender and not what I'm supposed to be/But who could know if I'm a traitor?/Time's a revelator." They come to detonate the received notions of country - and indeed those of (which is now no alt) - within its very epicentre. Wandering around, surf parties, dismissals of white wedding gowns - "leaving the valley and fucking out of sight" she intones demurely in her indeterminate Southern accent - an LA-born offspring of Carol Burnett's old musical director, an attendant of Berklee. "Every word seen in the data/Every day is getting straighter." How distorted is this data to begin with? How much history has she received? How much of it is received?

At the song's climax Rawlings thrashes out some bitonal, aggressively-struck chords, the intimately-miked thwack of fingernail against nylon recorded as closely as Carthy on "Out of the Cut" or Bailey on "Aida."

"My First Lover" continues this not-quite-in-focus lamenting. Recalling an old failed partner and her reluctance to don said "white wedding gown" Welch drifts inexplicably into Steve Miller's "Quicksilver Girl" - itself as much of a virtual "folk song" as anything here.

But this is not the callous aspic-worship of Wynton Marsalis. Nor does it parallel the gratuitous cynicism of Garth Brooks, armed with his MBA.

A pair of comparatively straight love songs follow, but still not traditional. "Dear Someone" is on the face of it as convention as any Patsy Cline ballad (if the latter could be said to be "conventional") but the singer seems to be now revelling in her roving solitude, now anxious at her seeming lack of anchor, human or otherwise. Then there's "Red Clay Halo" the only song here whose lyrics have turned up on Welch websites, all about a poor lass who can't get a guy as she has to walk through red clay (why?) to attend the dance. Her gown will only become golden in the afterlife with a red clay halo around her head. This is not comfy Opry fare.

Next is the first part of a duologue "April the 14th" ostensibly a recollection of Welch visiting a no-budget outdoor festival with a "five-band bill and a two-dollar show ... no one turned up from the local press." The event passes as the sun sets and the sky becomes red. But the song is topped and tailed with seemingly random interjections of disasters which also occurred on April the 14th; the Titanic (the iceberg coming at it like Casey Jones), the Oklahoma dustbowl evacuation and the assassination of Lincoln ("the Great Emancipator took a bullet in the head"). She whispers "hey!" in the fadeout. A warning or a sob?

And then it's the epicentre of this album - which has to be listened to in full and in sequence - "I Want To Sing That Rock And Roll" recorded live at the Opry. Only 2:47 long. Exhausted with travelling and with her guitar, and with "everyone making a noise, so big and loud it's been drowning me out" she wants either to join or to subvert/destroy. The Opry audience whoops its approval of Rawlings' Scotty Moore licks in the middle. It's only when you realise that the track is extracted from the artfully engineered film "Down from the Mountain" that you understand that the audience is one which has seen "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" So they're all conspiring.

After that, a meditation on the consequences of wanting to sing that rock and roll. "Elvis Presley Blues." In the chorus it's unclear whether Welch is singing "I was thinking that night about Elvis - the day that he died" or "did he die?" She ponders his sexuality - "he grabbed his wand in the other hand and shook it like a hurricane ... and he shook it like a holy roller with his soul at stake." At the end of his life, "in long decline" he thinks "how happy John Henry was ... beating his steam drill and he dropped down dead." Welch climaxes with a murmured "bless my soul, what's wrong with me?" A tribute which Freddie Starr will never sing.

Back to "Ruination Day" which picks up from where "April the 14th" left off, but with the chords no longer pensive but askew and disjointed, as with the lyrics. "It was not December and it was not May/Was 14th of April that his ruination day/That's the day that his ruination day." Data is scrambled, the flattened fifths never resolved. Icebergs, bullets, dustbowls and Casey Jones merge into one final divine apocalypse. It is the product of a mind which has turned indeterminate. This is profoundly disturbing listening, the Dorian mode impaled upon John Henry's spear.

The symmetry of the album then resolves with "Everything Is Free" which returns to the "do what I want" ethos of "Dear Someone." The song is apparently about Napster - "gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay - I can get a tip job, gas up the car, try to make a little change down at the bar; or I can get a straight job - I've done it before/Never mind working hard, it's who I'm working for." It's a means, not a purpose. It's defiant. It says fuck you far more fervently than Eminem taking the piss out of Steve Berman (not to deny the worth of the latter).

"Every day I wake up humming a song, but I don't need to run around, I just stay home and sing a little love song, my love and myself/If there's something that you wanna hear, you can sing it yourself - no one's gotta listen to the words in my head." A degree of distance/separation from commerce/the listener/the world which is almost on a par with that of AMM. What is there in MY uselessness, she asks, to cause YOU distress?

And finally to the closer, the unparalleled, unbeatable 14-minute masterpiece "I Dream A Highway" which sums up everything that's come before, attempts to explain it and moves music forward. Barely using three chords, but with every conceivable harmonic, acoustic and temporal variation there could ever be. Once again the protagonist is on the move through place and time. The mental highway is delineated by "a winding ribbon with a band of gold" and a "silver vision" which variously comes and rests, blesses and convalesces her soul.

It starts at the Grand Old Opry - "John (Henry, presumably)'s kicking out the footlights/The Grand Old Opry's got a brand new band/Lord let me die here with a hammer in my hand." In other words, she is here to demolish and destroy the citadel of conservatism. Referring back to Presley, she then plans to "move down into Memphis and thank the hatchet man who forked my tongue/I'll lie in wait until the wagons come" only to find that the "getaway kid" has sent her "an empty wagon full of rattling bones" (from the April 14th concert? From the dustbowl?). Then the revelation itself - "Which lover are you, Jack of Diamonds?/Now you be Emmylou and I'll be Gram." But this itself is a red herring. The confession ensues. "I don't know who I am."

And then it hits you. Underline it, Gillian.

"I'm an indisguisable shade of twilight/Any second now I'm gonna turn myself on/In the blue display of the cool cathode ray."

And you realise that this astonishing piece of music is beyond even a reverie, not the reverie of the dying Charles Foster Kane trying to make a personal sense of his life, but the imagined, implanted reverie we recognise from Blade Runner. It is the American equivalent of Tricky's "Aftermath." A replicant trying to learn and assimilate an alien cultural vocabulary. Bowie's imagined Sinatra gabble at the end of "Low." An alien trying to find its mother, its womb.

Explicitly referred to in the next stanza: "Sunday morning at the diner/Hollywood trembles on the verge of tears/I watch the waitress for a thousand years/Saw a wheel inside a wheel/Heard a call within a call." The cops shooting roses at ET instead of bullets. And, like ET, it awakens from the apparent dead: "Step into the light, poor Lazarus. Don't lie alone behind the window shade. Let me see the mark death made" as the song itself continues to wind down in speed almost imperceptibly, now down to funereal tempo winding the call around the circular spin of its own wheel.

There is no resolution. In the final verse Welch proclaims "what will sustain us through the winter? Where did last year's lessons go? Walk me out into the rain and snow." And the chords continue to occur less frequently. The space becomes more vast. The piece ends (if it can be said to end) with a few basic notes, deliciously hovering on the brink of non-existence (cf. Morton Feldman's Coptic Light, the closing minutes of John Stevens and Evan Parker's The Longest Night Vol 2). It fades, but like the end of Escalator Over The Hill, could theoretically continue forever.

And time resolves upon itself. When I started the preparatory notes for this piece in October 2001, I was still in Oxford and in grief. Perhaps it has required six months for me to bring a piece to a successful conclusion. I now feel differently about many things than I did then, and new light has availed itself upon my threshold.

I can but say that anyone wishing to listen to "Original Pirate Material" should first hear this. The parallels are remarkable; the same leitmotifs obsessively returned to, the same template of hopelessness and conventionality endlessly subverted (for "Casey Jones" read "shit in a tray"); no real ending. An individual decelerating in rebellion against the increased acceleration of the rest of humanity.

This is popular music which defies the undertaking. This is miles ahead.

MC London, April 2002

To R with love. Thanking you for the regeneration.

Amor vincera omnes.

Marcello Carlin, Sunday, 7 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

I really should buy this then. The Rawlings/Welsh connection to "Heartbreaker" should have been enough to convince me.

Ronan, Sunday, 7 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

good to have you back, marcello

mark s, Sunday, 7 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

I haven't heard a track off this album but I remember listening to a Gillian Welch track in an 'Uncut' magazine compilation (it must've been over a year ago). I thought the music was garbage. Just some Neil Young type shitty country rock (and I never take note of lyrics, mostly the sound of the voice, and only if the rest of the music is up to scratch) which I have absolute comtempt for.

Having said that this is nicely written piece. Hopefully I'll hear something from this record.

Julio Desouza, Sunday, 7 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

It's an outstanding disc. Thanks Marcello.

Sean, Sunday, 7 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

I don't like GW much, but this is a fantastic piece. Great connections between wildly different *sounding* recds which MUST be explored. Nice one MC!

Dr. C, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Welcome back.

Jeff W, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

What Dr. C and Jeff said, yus.

Ned Raggett, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Thanks Marcello (and welcome back)::this album’s been dying for The Treatment. Just a few small quibbles before the larger ones. Some of the quotes are mistaken, misquoted à a pernickety aside. I’m not sure what you’re taking as yr criteria for “radical” but yr summation of Time as “an individual decelerating in rebellion against the increased acceleration of the rest of humanity” is not especially radical as it is rare. Well trotted example: Pink Moon, Nick Drake. The sound of water flowing round a pebble in a millstream. But I think I understand yr aim:: ‘noble’ would be to devalue it. Suffice to say I read it as contrary to Simon Reynolds (I know how much you like him, or guess I know) ‘aesthetic’ approach to radicalism. Superficially speaking. Hence the “not conceived in a DJ Mixing booth in south-western Australia/Winstanley Estate in south-west London” as Simon would have us believe in his fear-of-the-future- denunciatory-of-country-way of his.

Other points, it felt to me (and bear in mind that I am useless at filling in gaps and prefer the writers Logic Pattern down on the page fr me to follow) that you grabbed points and didn’t develop them. Like when you ask “how distorted is this data to begin with?” – wha’? Why d’you ask this? Probably just me in my dullardness.

Also, what’s Gillian saying ‘April 14th’ interspersing these grave events in history with this personal lament? What’s the point? [A sob!]

[Aside: fuck me, the most symmetrical album in history? Amazing, I never noticed::thank you.]

‘I Want To Sing That Rock N Roll’ – Just a small point (ties in with the Musicianship thread) my friend can’t listen to this song as he says it’s a celebration of muso-dom, not, as you would have us believe, a conspiracy:: the crowd whoop at the style not the content.

I’m not sure that Freddie Starr wouldn’t sing ‘Elvis Presley Blues’ (well besides his ltd vocal range) – I think that the imagery is oblique enough to allow savoury interpretation but the perverted bent you take on it is brilliant. Perverted sure, but brilliant. [“Did he die”: always what I read it as.] Also, unclear is the “bless my soul, what is wrong with me?” addressed to Welch, a rhetorical, “Why, oh why would I want to follow this path, fuck, look at Elvis, look how he ended” or an aside through Elvis’ mouth “What’s wrong with me” (taking the sexuality imagery further) and also taking the despair of the RnR star, internalising it, making him aware of his troubles, rather than just the third parties… Or is it… Well, I had a third ambiguity but I can’t remember, I think the first is the one I’d take. Which makes it heart-rending.

“Everything Is Free” – OTM, OTM, OT-f’in-M! Esp. Eminem comment.

“What is there in MY uselessness, she asks, to cause YOU distress?” IMO, drives straight to the heart of Ned vs Lyrics, and the thoughts I’ve been having on the obsolescence of lyrics lately. Put so succinctly.

I agree with what you say about ‘I Dream A Highway’ and how she is a decelerating soul in a herd of rampaging bodies, but does the rest of the album show this? Maybe, again just me, but reading this I needed to do a lot of legwork to join the dots:: note, I’m half as clever as yrself but it maybe coulda been a bit clearer.

“And time resolves upon itself.” And time resolves upon itself. Light years, Marcello, not miles.

PS There are other things, I’ll get to them in due course.

powertonevolume, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Also, Re: Red Clay - a possible nod towards Emmylou's Red Dirt Girl ("I'm just a red dirt girl, in a red dirt world" - cept she isn't a red dirt girl, and won't be accepted into heaven until she is?) & also, red ochre (red clay) has prev. been used on dead bodies, sprinkled with it as it doesn't fade with TIME. Also: is this going to appear anywhere "official"?

david h, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

"Adam was created out of red clay. In the prehistoric cultures, however, red was associated with the female principle. Mother Earth provided the neolithic peoples with red ochre which was credited with life giving powers. The relation of the red color to the female principle in Japan survived up to the present day."

david h, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Re: Lyrics not appearing on any Gillian sites - - some lyrics and some tabs for Time (The Revelator)

david h, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

I see from altcountrytab that Ryan Humbert & Co also seem to have experienced considerable difficulties in deciphering GW's lyrics. One major reason why my piece took so long was precisely the lack of lyrics on the sleeve; combined with GW's drawl and the general po-mo aura, this makes it open to a vista of interpretations, and mine is the only coherent explanation of the record which to me makes any sort of sense. That having been said I don't think I did too badly; some misquoting in "Everything is Free" but I note that they've thus far steered clear of "Ruination Day."

Agree that the individual decelerating etc. etc. is not especially radical per se, but the context in which Welch has presented this does in my view (trad.alt?) and the manner in which this is expressed do make it rather radical. Cf. Mike Skinner's parallel deconstruction/desecration/re-creation of UK garage. With Drake, you kind of know what you're going to get (Island '72 - narrowcast demographic). As you imply, I don't particularly want to push Welch into canonisation/Camden Town Good Music Society hell. I have tried to convince Simon R to have a listen but without much success so far - more intent on drawing a line from This Heat/ACR circa '80/81 to Streets/Position Normal.

I do tend to jump several stepping stones of logic at a go - including back and forth (as it tends to fit in better with the tenor of the music I'm talking about, getting beneath its skin etc.) - but really the data question is self-evident from my theory; the replicant in whom this data (country, USA, Titanic) has been implanted and who spends an hour trying to make it into a coherent story with palpable reason. I hope GW herself gets to read the piece; would love to know what gulf (or not) exists between my perception of what she's done and what she felt she set out to do.

Really the answer is to read the piece, in real time, along with the album (that's how I wrote the final draft - "24" style).

But what I would hope to do is to try and sharpen up ideas about the art of listening; about listening to the space between chords, the ethos which has been used to construct the music/lyric interface. To try to break the surface of "yawn trad country zzz" and get to the nerve centre of what is actually going on within this music. Something perhaps close to "the truth" - like the majestic yet immediately forlorn "perfect" opening chord of Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia, which the rest of the piece tries hard to recapture before settling for a compromise; not quite perfection, not quite God, but as near as humanity is going to get, and we should be satisfied with that.

Thanks also for the red clay info - does, as you say, bring a whole new dimension to that song and its relationship to the rest of the album.

Marcello Carlin, Friday, 12 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Very cool article Marcello and insightfully written. I've often found myself wondering about the swaying back and forth in time that appears in April 14--the way in which so many tragedies become compressed and almost seem to play up the small tragedy of these musicians lives in comparison. I take that from her statement in which she sees the band's van with the girl in the back seat trash and sings 'And there was no way they'd make/Even a half a tank of gas.'

As for the red dirt, I took that as referring to the red dirt of Oklahoma and those kind areas. In that country the dirt really is red so what you've got, in my opinion, is a song about the insecurities of the poor country person toward the city tempered with a sense of defiance as though she's trying to stake a claim that her life is good enough and has value as is.

Kevin Stahnke, Tuesday, 16 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

OR "There's not much hope for a red dirt girl Somewhere out there is a great big word That's where I'm bound And stars might fall on Alabama But one of these days gonna swing my hammer down Away from this red dirt town I'm gonna make a joyful sound." Red Dirt Girl, Emmylou, Butterscotch Brillo pad that she is.

david h, Tuesday, 16 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

one month passes...
I found your review while listening to tracks from the record and half-consciously meandering on the web. I gather you are a music writer/critic/whatever. I'm a songwriter/musician in the New Orleans area and it touches me that you've spent as much time and energy as you apparently have with this record. It's nice to know someone listens. Your friends who dismiss Gillian due to their lack of interest in alt-country are missing your point that this record at heart has nothing to do with the genre. Though it's release was well aligned with that of "Oh Brother...", there really is nary a nod toward Ralph Stanley on the record. Lyrical inaccuracies are forgivable, I suppose, but it bothered me a little when you quoted a mis-interpreted lyric in your own piece ("...every word SEEMED TO DATE HER"-makes it even better, huh?). Before reading your piece, I did enjoy the timing, but never considered it quite as precisely as you have. This may indeed be the best sequenced album ever. It's almost like a single composition with different movements, but it also ties to other music in a way as to suggest that all music could be considered one long and unfinished composition. I really believe "Dream a Highway" is a sort of stream-of-consciousness reflection on the content and air of the rest of the record. The performance on that track was the first take as well as the first time the two of them played the song together. Makes you wonder if it was really even a "song" at all rather than a series of loosely connected thoughts written down(or not!)and tied together with a common chorus. In 20 years your detractors will be listening to this record. That kind of makes it even sweeter, don't you agree? Fucking out of sight. -Casey McAllister Spanishtown, La. 5/25/02

Casey McAllister, Saturday, 25 May 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

two weeks pass...
Sorry, bro, but there are some wild inaccuracies, misunderstandings, misperceptions, and mistakes in this review, and I can't help addressing them.

"Welch drifts _inexplicably_ into Steve Miller's "Quicksilver Girl" - itself as much of a virtual "folk song" as anything here."

It's not inexplicable; the lyrics set it up. "Quicksilver Girl" is the song the narrator is listening to while she's losing her virginity.

"Then there's "Red Clay Halo" the only song here whose lyrics have turned up on Welch websites, all about a poor lass who can't get a guy as she has to walk through red clay (why?) to attend the dance. Her gown will only become golden in the afterlife with a red clay halo around her head. This is not comfy Opry fare. "

Well, not exactly. First, it's about a lad, not a lass. "Well the girls all dance with the boys from the city, and they don't care to dance with me." It's about poverty, and a bittersweet fantasy about a heaven for the poor, where those who lived in the dirt have halos and wings made of dirt. As for comfy Opry fare...this song, written by Welch and Rawlings, was originally recorded in 1998 by the Nashville Bluegrass Band. It's a very traditional bluegrass song; poverty, squalor, and sadness are the oldest themes in country and bluegrass music, and have always and will always feature prominently on the Opry. Just a question, and not as pointed as it might appear: Have you ever listened to the Opry? It's easy to imagine what it's like if you haven't, but try listening to it some Saturday on the web. Welch and Rawlings have performed on the Opry a few times, themselves.

"The Opry audience whoops its approval of Rawlings' Scotty Moore licks in the middle. It's only when you realise that the track is extracted from the artfully engineered film "Down from the Mountain" that you understand that the audience is one which has seen "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" So they're all conspiring."

Well, this wasn't performed at the Opry. It was performed at the Ryman Auditorium, which is one of many former homes of the Opry; the Opry is now based, and has been for a long time, at The Grand Ole Opry House in the Disney-like Opryland complex, next to a terrifyingly gigantic shopping mall and chateau-like hotel. It's true that this cut is extracted from the "Down From the Mountain" concert, but it's not true that the audience has seen "O Brother"; the film was still in post-production at the time of the "Down From the Mountain" concert. The concert was simply a gathering of very earnest, straightforward musicians playing very earnest, straightforward music. If there is a hollywood sheen to the film of the concert, it's because the film was made by veteran showbiz documentary filmmakers...the same folks who filmed the Monterery Pop Fest, as well as Bowie's Spiders film and Depeche Mode's 101. Also, audiences whooping approval of guitar/mandolin/dobro/banjo/whatever solos is a bluegrass convention. It's just what's done at bluegrass concerts. I saw Welch and Rawlings recently in Nashville; Rawlings solo'd on every song, and received enthusiastic applause after every solo. He's a damn good guitar player, and deserves every clap. It's not conspiracy, or rebellion. It's all very conventional, traditional, and honest.

The impetus and meaning, incidentally, for "I Want to Sing that Rock N Roll, are here: "The song stems from comments made by Carter Stanley on a live album during the late-'50s' country-music slump, when rock and roll overshadowed everything else."

The above link provides an overall excellent historical and interpretational view of this record.

"After that, a meditation on the consequences of wanting to sing that rock and roll. "Elvis Presley Blues." In the chorus it's unclear whether Welch is singing "I was thinking that night about Elvis - the day that he died" or "did he die?" She ponders his sexuality - "he grabbed his wand in the other hand and shook it like a hurricane ... and he shook it like a holy roller with his soul at stake." At the end of his life, "in long decline" he thinks "how happy John Henry was ... beating his steam drill and he dropped down dead." Welch climaxes with a murmured "bless my soul, what's wrong with me?" A tribute which Freddie Starr will never sing."

I kind of like your sexual interpretation here, but I'm afraid it's groundless. Although sexuality does play in here, it's not the point of the song. First, he's "Grabbing ONE in the other hand," not his wand; she's talking about the fusion of racial musical genres; black R&B with white country music. And John Henry is not "Beating his steam drill"...he did, however, defeat ("beat") a steam drill in a race to build a railroad, after which John Henry fell down dead. This is also the source of the lyric, "Lord, let me die with a hammer in my hand." For more on John Henry, look here:

"Bless my soul, what's wrong with me" is a brilliantly truncated extract from the Elvis track, "I'm all shook up." The entire lyric, which Welch has added to the song in live performance, is "Bless my soul, what's wrong with me/ I'm itchin like a bear on a fuzzy tree."

"It says fuck you far more fervently than Eminem taking the piss out of Steve Berman. "

Now THAT I can agree with!

"This is popular music which defies the undertaking. This is miles ahead. "

Thing is, though, this isn't popular music. It's pretty underground, by most American standard. The only Gillian you'll really hear on the radio is "I'll Fly Away" from the O Brother soundtrack. This music is miles and miles and miles behind, and miles ahead, and right on time. It overlaps old-time music with Woody Guthrie with Bob Dylan with The Stanley Brothers with Elvis with Blind Willie Johnson with Dead Kennedys with Kitty Wells with everything else. It's basically the whole history of RCA Studio B (Where it was recorded) all coming through at once. It's kind of ultimate postmodernism with all its machine noise turned down, so that the only noise is the noise of analogue tape, and yes, of fingers clicking on the strings.

St. Brendan, Nashville TN, Wednesday, 12 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

"The Opry audience whoops its approval of Rawlings' Scotty Moore licks in the middle. It's only when you realise that the track is extracted from the artfully engineered film "Down from the Mountain" that you understand that the audience is one which has seen "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" So they're all conspiring."
One nitpick: wasn't the Down From the Mountain concert recorded before the major release of the movie, anyhow? (concert was May 2000, and it had only appeared at Cannes by that point; it would be nice to think that everyone who had seen it at Cannes flew to the Ryman for the concert, but...)

Sean Carruthers, Wednesday, 12 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

seven months pass...
I'm really late on this thread, but what the hey -- I'm a big fan of GW and found these comments interesting.

I just wanted to add one little note for posterity's sake. The association of John in "I Dream a Highway" with John Henry is wrong. Like many of the other characters in this song, she's refering to a singer -- here Johnny Cash. Back when Johnny Cash was really screwed up on drugs and alcohol, he wreaked a little hell at the Grand Old Opry. At this show, he walked around the stage and kicked out the stage lights. The audience and the powers that be at the Grand Old Opry freaked and Mr. Cash was banned from the Grand Old Opry for many years.

She does go on to tie Johnny Cash in with John Henry in her reference to the hammer, but her initial reference is explicitly referring to the former.

Bob Brookins, Wednesday, 5 February 2003 06:23 (seventeen years ago) link

one year passes...
Chuck Eddy mentioned Welch on the Folk/Country thread and I realized I'd never searched out what's been said about her here. Good piece, but a correction, in two parts. 1) The correct term would be "flatted fifths" not "flattened" (you can also just say it's a tritone). 2) The opening notes of the first track are actually a minor second, not a flatted fifth.

Hurting (Hurting), Tuesday, 21 December 2004 05:49 (fifteen years ago) link

two years pass...

Nothing as erudite as all the musings upthread. Just wanted to note that Gillian & David's cover of Black Star is excellent.

that's not my post, Tuesday, 23 October 2007 03:59 (twelve years ago) link

Yeah, they did that when I saw them live and it was quite striking

Hurting 2, Tuesday, 23 October 2007 04:08 (twelve years ago) link

No album in four years though and no current tours.

Hurting 2, Tuesday, 23 October 2007 04:09 (twelve years ago) link

lazy zing x 1000, and yet...

gershy, Tuesday, 23 October 2007 04:16 (twelve years ago) link

thanks for the pointer to the WFUV - Bonnaroo interview. Sounds like they are at least starting to pull together some new material.

that's not my post, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 05:10 (twelve years ago) link

I love Soul Journey as a deliberate full album, how the final lines rhyme "mall" (mall!) and "ball" and refer to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and how they've got electric guitars for the first time in this song, and it feels like the end of a two-album or maybe four-album song cycle.

Also I love how each of her records sets up particular conventions in the first minute or two that define the parameters of what we'll hear: the dissonant opening to Time, the drums on Soul Journey.

I mean, there are plenty of other pleasures in this music, but their structure as full albums is part of it.

Eazy, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 05:23 (twelve years ago) link

Revelator is conceptually brilliant.

roxymuzak, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 06:10 (twelve years ago) link


gershy, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 06:53 (twelve years ago) link

For me, it's been downhill since Revival, and her reference to Gram Parsons pretty much takes all the fun out of ODing in a cheap motel room with a groupie.

If Timi Yuro would be still alive, most other singers could shut up, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 08:16 (twelve years ago) link

i think revelator is the only record where she figured out how to do something wholly her own. still shows all her obvious debts and influences, and still indulges in some po-faced po'-folks stuff, but the musical and lyrical reference points are farther flung and more mysterious than on the other albums. i think it's really a great record. the songs stand up individually but also cohere into something greater, mystical, apocalyptic (and/or rapturous, if there's a difference).

on another note, anyone heard tim and mollie o'brien's cover of "wichita"? that's one of my favorite non-revelator gil songs, but she hasn't released a version of it herself as far as i know. the o'briens version is great.

tipsy mothra, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 18:03 (twelve years ago) link

Yeah, I totally agree about Revelator, and Soul Journey was a bit of a letdown in that regard - I mean not that she went backward or anything, but the album didn't add up to much for me.

Hurting 2, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 18:11 (twelve years ago) link

I also really like the Nowhere Man/Whiskey Girl song for similar reasons (does something her own, loses the po-faced schtick)

Hurting 2, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 18:12 (twelve years ago) link

All the talk of Red Clay upthread reminded me of this story

James Redd and the Blecchs, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 18:23 (twelve years ago) link

I guess taste is taste, but I can't help but think that people who use the "NPR music" zing are more interested in stylistic than qualitative distinctions.

Hurting 2, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 18:30 (twelve years ago) link

I mean i remember that xhucx kept calling her "schoolmarm folk," and I can hardly accuse him of being deaf to qualitative distinctions, but I don't hear schoolmarm folk in Gillian Welch at all.

Hurting 2, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 18:32 (twelve years ago) link

well there is something a little antiseptic about her, although in a somewhat complicated way (as marcello's first post does a good job of illuminating: "too impeccable to be real; not enough dirt on her boots, not enough creases in his suit. But then that's the point.")

i understand complaints about her humorlessness, even though i think she's funny sometimes, and as far as neo-authenticity goes she can be a big offender. but that's one reason i think revelator is her best record, because it kind of moved beyond a lot of that. a few songs aside (including "red clay halo," which i like a lot anyway because it's a good tune), it's not particularly mannered or self-consciously rootsy.

"npr music" though is just as dumb as any other dumb tag. bob dylan is npr music too. so is ella fitzgerald. and?

tipsy mothra, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 19:12 (twelve years ago) link

I always thought "Red Clay Halo" was a cover - it sounds like some kind of traditional song that's filtered down over the years into the martyr complex of mainstream country (and a lot of rural, or wannabe rural, white people - them big city elites are making fun of us!).

milo z, Wednesday, 24 October 2007 19:46 (twelve years ago) link

guess I missed the secret sign that "npr music" was supposed to be trenchant criticism. ok, you've convinced me that she's crap. will stop listening to her and all other npr crap immediately.

that's not my post, Thursday, 25 October 2007 06:24 (twelve years ago) link

Can we agree on a definition - "NPR Rock" ??

gershy, Thursday, 25 October 2007 06:46 (twelve years ago) link


somewhere between crowded house and wilco.

-- stockholm cindy (winter version) (Jody Beth Rosen), Friday, 20 January 2006 05:12 (1 year ago) Link
...there lies obsession.

-- Ned Raggett (Ned), Friday, 20 January 2006 05:32 (1 year ago) Link

Hurting 2, Thursday, 25 October 2007 14:01 (twelve years ago) link

This thread reminds me of what Tom Smucker (quoted by Xgau) said about Woodstock:
"I left one thing out of my Woodstock article. I left out how boring it was."

Jazzbo, Thursday, 25 October 2007 14:18 (twelve years ago) link

eleven months pass...

No album in four years though and no current tours.

― Hurting 2, Tuesday, October 23, 2007 5:09 AM (11 months ago) Bookmark

What is up with that?

caek, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 00:56 (eleven years ago) link

weirder is that there kind of were tours, right? like a bunch of american shows a year ago, maybe. she's got really good new songs, too.

schlump, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 01:12 (eleven years ago) link

I am watching this right now:

caek, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 01:13 (eleven years ago) link

(which that Youtube is from)

caek, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 01:13 (eleven years ago) link

yeah funny that it's been so long since her last record! i interviewed her in 2005, i think, and at the time she hinted that a new record was imminent. guess not! she did say that she liked having her own label because it allowed her to go by her own timeline. have heard one amazing new song "the way it will be" that they play live. though calling it new at this point is silly, i think I heard them do it in 2003 ...

tylerw, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 03:13 (eleven years ago) link

saw her in brooklyn last year and she was grrr8

Surmounter, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 03:40 (eleven years ago) link

website lists a bunch of albums that she and david rawlings have "appeared" on, no tour dates

Tyrone Quattlebaum (Hurting 2), Wednesday, 22 October 2008 03:44 (eleven years ago) link

I kind of assumed after Everything Is Free and Wrecking Ball that she'd just never bother recording for public release again.

Sick Mouthy (Scik Mouthy), Wednesday, 22 October 2008 08:30 (eleven years ago) link

New album due next year according to metacritic; no release date as yet.

Eric in the East Neuk of Anglia (Marcello Carlin), Wednesday, 22 October 2008 08:48 (eleven years ago) link

i don't know, the whole "she's not *really* going down in the coal mines" thing is such a non-starter. it could be applied to pretty much any of the great singer-songwriters of the last 75 years. who says you have to "live" something to write a song about it? i mean, either you buy it or you don't, but let's not pretend that, say, hank williams was any less of an "actor."

tylerw, Saturday, 2 June 2012 19:33 (eight years ago) link

kinda reminds me of joni mitchell saying that bob dylan was a 'phony.' he is, but who cares?

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Saturday, 2 June 2012 19:56 (eight years ago) link

yeah he's totally a phony! and he's great!

tylerw, Saturday, 2 June 2012 20:00 (eight years ago) link

pretty sure greil marcus hates gillian welch (and lucinda williams) for exactly these reasons, tho.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Saturday, 2 June 2012 20:03 (eight years ago) link

I'm excited to hear a new Gillian Welch album! Soul Journey wasn't bad but didn't live up to the hope of the previous albums, which I played to death for a while. Seems like Ilx has always been unfairly harsh on most alt country guys and gays. Never understood why.

JacobSanders, Saturday, 2 June 2012 20:04 (eight years ago) link

ilx loves the alt country gays.
no, i really like the latest one. they are masters at the acoustic duo thing.

tylerw, Saturday, 2 June 2012 20:08 (eight years ago) link

Oh um I meant gals.

JacobSanders, Saturday, 2 June 2012 20:09 (eight years ago) link

ha yeah, i figured. i'd imagine the general disinterest is due at least in part to the rockist wars of 2004-ish. in a lot of ways, alt-country was presented as this "real, authentic" thing, which rubs everyone the wrong way (with good reason). doesn't mean that there weren't/aren't good songwriters/bands in there though. funny that gillian welch gets in trouble for not being authentic enough though.

tylerw, Saturday, 2 June 2012 20:13 (eight years ago) link

lyrically she hasn't reached the highs of TtR again, but damn, those are such good lyrics it would be about impossible.

Moreno, Saturday, 2 June 2012 20:20 (eight years ago) link

If you don't like Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, I don't really have much to say to you.

Your Favorite Album in the Cutout Bin, Saturday, 2 June 2012 20:42 (eight years ago) link

three years pass...

I listened to a Dave Rawlings Machine album and was underwhelmed by his vocals. He's listenable but just in a guy at am open-mike at a bar singing folk and country kinda way.

curmudgeon, Friday, 6 November 2015 16:36 (four years ago) link

Do you mean the new one? I dunno - I like it OK. I especially like that long one, "The Trip," which makes me think he's been listening to T-Bone Burnett's "The Murder Weapon" (and actually a lot of songs from that Proof Through the Night album, come to think of it). I always check out what he's up to, and while I'm never knocked out, I'm never turned off, either.

Now, can someone explain why the hell none of the Gillian Welch albums have been released on vinyl? Surely a 180 gram reissue of Time (The Revelator) has "RSD release" written all over it.

Wimmels, Friday, 6 November 2015 21:16 (four years ago) link

"Ok" is the key. He is just ok.

curmudgeon, Saturday, 7 November 2015 19:27 (four years ago) link

I do like some of the live David Rawlings clips:

that's not my post, Sunday, 8 November 2015 06:49 (four years ago) link

I really love "Bells of Harlem". Didn't know there was a new one.

sctttnnnt (pgwp), Sunday, 8 November 2015 23:34 (four years ago) link

i always thought that was a song written by ryan adams. apparently they wrote it together. anyways it is one of the highlights of heartbreaker, ryan adams amazing debut.

it's the distortion, stupid! (alex in mainhattan), Monday, 9 November 2015 06:21 (four years ago) link

one year passes...

this is exciting.

If there are future volumes for each album in her discography, I will probably buy them all. Hoping too this means a vinyl issue of Time The Revelator is being planned. One of the few albums for which I would unhesitatingly plunk down for a super deluxe vinyl box set

Wimmels, Thursday, 17 November 2016 13:53 (three years ago) link

Oooh, my wife will like that and want to hear the unreleased songs. Me, I'm just kinda curious

curmudgeon, Thursday, 17 November 2016 16:09 (three years ago) link

If this thing is being released only on cd, why does that give us hope that TTR will get a vinyl look-in?

hardcore dilettante, Friday, 18 November 2016 05:22 (three years ago) link

I guess my thinking was that if she's at the stage in her career in which the catalogue is being reassessed, eventually a full vinyl reissue campaign would have to follow. I bet they'll wait for RSD or something, but it's pretty strange that TTR has never had a vinyl release. In short, it's just wishful thinking on my part, I guess!

Wimmels, Friday, 18 November 2016 11:08 (three years ago) link

three years pass...

Surprise new album!!

Johnny Fever, Friday, 10 July 2020 14:22 (four weeks ago) link

Yay! A summer with a new Gillian Welch *and* a new Kathleen Edwards!

Josh in Chicago, Friday, 10 July 2020 14:52 (four weeks ago) link

oh my god welch/rawlings doing "hello in there"....I am dead with happiness

k*r*n koltrane (Simon H.), Friday, 10 July 2020 15:04 (four weeks ago) link


StanM, Friday, 10 July 2020 16:18 (four weeks ago) link


tylerw, Friday, 10 July 2020 16:20 (four weeks ago) link

I can't imagine this will be anyone's favorite welch/rawlings release but it's such a nice surprise that it seems churlish to complain

k*r*n koltrane (Simon H.), Friday, 10 July 2020 16:49 (four weeks ago) link


that's not my post, Friday, 10 July 2020 17:13 (four weeks ago) link

Yay! A summer with a new Gillian Welch *and* a new Kathleen Edwards!


Lipstick O.G. (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 10 July 2020 17:13 (four weeks ago) link

Thanks for the news, hadn't thought to check. Also, the prev. linked 21-track Boots No. 1 has a lot of my fave W&R studio work---they've always seemed pretty dependable live, at least on Public Radio concert series but some of the studio albums put me right to sleep. Also, the most recent Sound Machine studio album was pretty uneven, but it's mostly him---there was a time when she was touring as a part of the Machine, albeit a part producing a large amount of Sound, and that was good on Public Radio too (she said later that she was disgusted by her songwriting for several years, so shifted to thinking of herself as Dave's touring singer/rhythm guitarist).

dow, Friday, 10 July 2020 17:35 (four weeks ago) link

yeah obviously this isn't a "proper" new GW record of originals, but damn it sounds good. would love it if they loosened up a little and did more things like this.

tylerw, Friday, 10 July 2020 17:39 (four weeks ago) link

Yeah, and they do "Abandoned Love"! Didn't know about that song 'til you linked Dylan's version, Tyler, thanks. Getting generous with their Bandcamp---for isnt, all of this:

dow, Friday, 10 July 2020 17:46 (four weeks ago) link

A covers series, yes!

dow, Friday, 10 July 2020 17:47 (four weeks ago) link

the most recent Sound Machine studio album was pretty uneven

Are you talking about Nashville Obsolete or Poor David's Almanack? The latter was released under his own name and I think it's excellent, although it didn't seem to get much attention at the time.

joni mitchell jarre (anagram), Saturday, 11 July 2020 17:26 (four weeks ago) link

At some point live they turned into the living embodiment of the Prairie Home Companion, but I love that I can listen to the records whenever I want separate from the gimmick. They are admittedly fun live, though, particularly because of Rawlings, who is a great player and pretty funny.

Josh in Chicago, Saturday, 11 July 2020 17:29 (four weeks ago) link

Good summary, Josh. xpost I meant Almanack, but although I remember it as sometimes not handling the predictable folkie elements very well, my Nashville Scene ballot for 2017 releases does have it in the Related Top Ten (imaginary category I always add); the only comment there is an aside in notes on Boots No. 1: "Some of these are full band, rockin' in a Model-A way. (Electrified music is one of the traditions saluted and utilized on Welch-partner David Rawling’s Poor David’s Almanack)." So yeah, I guess I liked it pretty well overall.

dow, Saturday, 11 July 2020 18:17 (four weeks ago) link

Time (the revelator) is such a matchless collection of songs that it does put the rest of their oeuvre in the shade somewhat but I will honestly lap up any old thing they put out because their singing and playing is such a tonic. I could listen to them harmonise forever

Rishi don’t lose my voucher (wins), Saturday, 11 July 2020 19:51 (four weeks ago) link

such a good album is that.

calzino, Saturday, 11 July 2020 20:46 (four weeks ago) link

I admittedly don’t keep up with interviews etc but is there any explanation behind her lack of output over the last decade? Seems like she’s been active but there is just no rush to release an album’s worth of new music.

sctttnnnt (pgwp), Saturday, 11 July 2020 21:44 (four weeks ago) link

iirc just good old-fashioned writer's block

Josh in Chicago, Saturday, 11 July 2020 22:24 (four weeks ago) link

Revelator is all-time, but Harrow sure gives it a run for the money.

assert (MatthewK), Sunday, 12 July 2020 01:43 (four weeks ago) link

She's been writing plenty but it's been on Rawlings' albums.

Personally I'd say Harrow was the least essential of the albums released under her own name. Revelator >>> Revival >>> Yearlings >>> Soul Journey >>> Harrow

joni mitchell jarre (anagram), Sunday, 12 July 2020 04:38 (four weeks ago) link

fite me

assert (MatthewK), Sunday, 12 July 2020 06:28 (four weeks ago) link

Agreed re: Harrow. The “Way it Could Be” boot was the follow-up album I needed & didn’t get.

Pretty stoked for this covers record tho.

The little engine that choogled (hardcore dilettante), Monday, 13 July 2020 13:03 (three weeks ago) link

BOOTS NO. 2: THE LOST SONGS is the second release of archival music from the vault of
. This remarkable 48 song collection will be spread over three volumes. Volume One will be released digitally on 7/31. Listen to two new songs now and preorder.

dow, Saturday, 18 July 2020 01:50 (three weeks ago) link

Strange Isabella, one of the pre-release tunes, is particularly nice.

that's not my post, Saturday, 18 July 2020 17:37 (three weeks ago) link

All The Good Times contains two Dylan covers but not Diamond Joe - did they ever cut this one in the studio?

StanM, Thursday, 30 July 2020 18:06 (one week ago) link

(oh right, Good As I Been To You is the Dylan album with the incomplete credits - it's a traditional. I stand corrected)

StanM, Thursday, 30 July 2020 18:13 (one week ago) link

xxpost All 16 tracks of Volume One streaming here:

dow, Friday, 31 July 2020 16:57 (one week ago) link

waited until Bandcamp Friday to get this, am loving the shit out of it so far

assert (MatthewK), Friday, 7 August 2020 12:14 (two days ago) link

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