Gillian Welch and David Rawlings play Capitol Theatre Saturday July 16th.
The Alternative Country music singer Gillian Welch is well known in Olympia having played here several times. After one previous show a friend of mine went off to get Gillian and her partner singer/guitarist David Rawlings’ autographs and revealed her lack of TV knowledge when she asked Gillian how she managed to record and tour and still have time to star in the X-Files TV series. Gillian politely pointed out that actually it was another Gillian (Anderson) who starred in that show but they were both gracious enough to still sign my friend’s white shirt.
That down home friendliness is all over Gillian and David’s latest release ‘The Harrow and The Harvest’ a record that they co-produced and played all the music on guitar, banjo and harmonica. Gillian doesn’t put out a lot of records, indeed the last one ‘Soul Journey’ came out 8 years ago. Although it could be argued that last year’s ‘A Friend of a Friend’ by David Rawlings Machine could count as hers because their styles and lives are so intertwined.
Rawlings recently spoke of that closeness to the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, “As a songwriting team we are more seamless and fluid than ever before. It’s nearly impossible to unravel who wrote what word, what line, what sentiment.” And Gillian chimed in, “It’s truly immaterial at this point. When Dave and I really get down to work, it’s like we’re in a lifeboat, like we’re the only two people in the world, and it is very quiet. I think some of that quietness comes through on these recordings.”
These days the couple make their home in Nashville, TN and Gillian went on the say, “Tennessee figures rather prominently in the new songs, the truth is, we absented ourselves from Nashville for a while, to escape the weight of home and studio and record label. But I think our thoughts turned back there with a newness and clarity I hadn’t felt since I moved there almost 20 years ago.”
Welch’s image has changed over those 20 years, on her first record covers she looked like either a cowgirl or a dustbowl refugee, and on the cover of Rawling’s CD she looked like a magical creature that would be at home on ‘True Blood’ or some southern gothic vampire tale. The front cover artwork on ‘The Harrow and The Harvest’s continues with the pastoral magic while the back photo of the two of them is timeless and could have come from anytime in the last 100 years, (except for the 1980s).
The songs and performances are timeless as well and no drums, synths or auto-tunes were harmed in the making of this record.
The couple wrote all of the songs on ‘The Harrow and The Harvest’ but many of the phrases will be familiar to followers of bluegrass and country music. A song will start off with “Some bright morning…” or be titled ‘Silver Dagger’ or ‘Hard Times’ and ‘Scarlet Town’ which opens the CD on angelic guitar chords while the vocals shape a darker more earth bound tale of sorrow, following along the lines of ‘House of the Rising Sun’.
Though the songs are all new they tap into the history of Southern music and though I moved from TN in the late 70s these songs take me back there as they evoke sentimental feelings for the mythical South.
The most upbeat song here, ‘The Way it Goes’ still contains words of trouble and suffering which drop it down a few carefree notches before the ‘accept it all with just a shrug’ chorus kicks in.
With just the two of them singing and playing the songs at first seem light and summery in texture, but the lyrics belie that lightness and Gillian’s vocals exist on the boundary between light and dark, making it the best record to put on during a warm summer night preferably outside in a hammock. Or you can just go see them live.
Like their music they are approachable, natural people, friendly and open, just don’t ask Gillian about the X-Files.
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings play the Capitol Theatre on Saturday July 16th.