Friday, June 24, 2011

Gillian Welch

This Depression-era waif is Gillian Welch -- in reality a modern-day SoCal child of privilege who dresses up in vintage dresses and pulls her hair back severely and tries to look and sound like Mother Maybelle Carter. It's okay. She writes songs that would sound marvelous in 1930 or 2030, and she and musical sidekick/life partner David Rawlings harmonize better than any of the country hippies since Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.

She has a new album out on Tuesday, The Harrow and the Harvest, her first in eight years. I'm pretty excited about it, not only because it's been a long time in coming, but because it is, by all accounts, a return to the Appalachian roots of her early albums, which featured poetic songwriting, an acoustic guitar, a dobro, and an occasional clawhammer banjo, and two voices soaring together.

She's a great songwriter, a master of stark minimalism who says more with less than any of her peers. Here's one of my favorite hymns, where she distills the essence of sin and redemption down to about 50 words.

Nobody knows what waits ahead
Beyond the earth and sky
Li-da-li-da-li, I'm not afraid to die

And all the work of my own hands
Be broken by and by
Li-da-li-da-li, I'm not afraid to die

Sometimes it finds me fast asleep
And wakes me where I lie
Li-da-li-da-li, I'm not afraid to die

Forget my sins upon the wind
My hobo soul will rise
Li-da-li-da-li, I'm not afraid to die

I need to hear the new album, but I'm predisposed to think highly of it. You should check her out if you haven't done so.


joshua said...

One of the few artists I can listen to on repeat for an entire discography.

Melissa Jenks said...

I'm with you--I have friends who fall on the Lucinda Williams side of the Gillian Welch/Lucinda Williams dichotomy, but I'm Gillian Welch all the way. The song that gets me, every time, is "Everything Is Free." A better or more succinct elegy for the artist in the digital age I have yet to hear, and yet she sings it like Coolidge is in office.