Reviews for Gillian Welch
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lovely, lyrical, laconic | Reviewer: C Coleman | 10/10/2004
I recently watched Gillian Welch [GW] at a concert in Lexington VA, Sept. 2004, and though I had heard of her and knew of her contributions to "O Brother . . ." I really knew nothing about her, except for a few whisperings, a few snippets of what a great singer she is. My first real "taste" of her was two weeks before her concert when “The Mutual Admiration Society” played in Lexington, and after the concert, Nickel Creek and Glen Phillips gave an hour long impromptu concert, in the dark, in the parking lot, where near the end they, Chris and Sarah, sang "My Morphine." I had never heard that lovely strange song and ran home to find out more about it—found out that it was one of Gillian's; I couldn't wait to hear her in person!
During GW's VA concert I sat mesmerized by both her and David Rawlings’ vocals and musical skills. David had played earlier with their warm up band, O.C.M.S., so I didn’t know him until he played with Gillian. I’m surprised they’re not billed as Gillian and David or Welch and Rawlings, as their partnership in performance and composition runs deep, and one would be hard-pressed to separate the two as “partners.” I tried to remember all my favorite songs to see what CDs they were on and then begin to ponder which to buy first—a hard choice to make.
Now that I have all four, I’ve put them on my computer under the general artist index of Gillian Welch. But a few I have pulled out to play on specialized playlists, one daytime, one for night to fall asleep by.
I don’t have a favorite CD but I’m glad she produced them all. It’s the songs that matter to me. Some special favorites are "Elvis Presley Blues," [which really caught me off guard, as most Elvis songs are much more complicated and fussy]; “Look At Miss Ohio,” [reminded me of all the speedway beauty queens I’ve ever known]; “Everything Is Free,” [and it’s about more than just downloaded music]; and a little personal favorite of mine as its theme relates to a thought of my own since childhood, “One Little Song.” Though I do love everything on “Time [The Revelator];” I had never heard that word before, revelator, and thought it made up, and was pleasantly surprised to find it in my dictionary with its definition befitting the song.
As lovely as all the songs on the Cds are, nothing can compare to hearing Gillian and David live. That night in Lexington, VA, under tent as we felt the remnants of Hurricane Ivan, a soggy soggy night with heavy rain playing percussion, the air, humid and thick, full of soft sweet music, wrapped around all us, all 600 of us, into a tight intimate setting, where each note, each tuning twang or hum, dropped into our laps like the errant raindrops, and we listened together, laughed, cried, giggled, sighed as though we were all at summer camp’s talent show and the best cabin’s on stage. Listening to some of the songs from the CDs where other instruments are added changes whole songs in my head as I strain to hear them as first played for me, live, acoustic, stormily intimate. I’ve downloaded some “live” performances of the songs I already have, just to hear them the way first sung. But listening isn’t the whole experience; looking’s just as important.
Gillian has a stage mannerism that borders on affectation: bowing over her guitar, curling her limbs around it, with her right foot keeping beat by a kicking, shuffling motion, that seems awkward, as though it ought to throw her off balance. I’ve known many musicians and recognize the intensity of being one with song and instrument, and have watch with growing affection many grimaces and bodily distortions, but none like GW’s. It took some getting used to. And when David would play his solo riffs, she would really curl into herself, as though trying to get out of his way, even though they stood side by side.
After several songs, when they had warmed up, as much as one can considering the elements, Gillian began to chat with the audience, telling us that she really had had a fine hairdo for us, but the walk through the rain killed that, and that the humidity made her fingers too damp and she needed David and his special tuning machine to help tune up as the strings were really loosening with the humidity. A couple more songs brought out her playful coquettishness, and she told us how they had been following the hurricanes throughout the southeast, but broke off to play a date in Colorado: ‘They have real dry air, there, in Colorado—no humidity at all. And not a curly head in all the audience!” Her slow sly grin enchanted us all and we laughed with her, all understanding too well as we suffered also watching her in the cool damp dark. But GW’s bright wide smile and luminous eyes brought us in to her even further. Gillian glows on stage, whether with smoothed glossy hair or pinned down frizz, the brightness of her voice, technique, and personality, and the simple soft rendering of intricate, layered songs makes for an evening of pure delight and intense joy
A word about David Rawlings. Not many men are that talented and good looking and willing to be such a silent partner—not on stage, but in the eye of the public and media. His contributions on stage and in studio are immeasurable; his skill on guitar and other instruments and his pitch perfect, muted harmonies make GW’s performance full and complete. With his “own” band, the Old Crow Medicine Show, he really kicks it up with boys; but when on stage with Gillian, you know he’s there but your eyes can only focus on her. Except during his solo bits; there, he pulls out big rip-roaring riffs from a very small odd looking guitar before stepping back from the limelight. I’ve looked online for info on him alone, to see if he has any music of his own available, and could find very little about him. He is quite simply Gillian’s partner; that is how he was introduced and all that is said of him online. But I’m not quite sure just how this term is defined as today it has many meanings beyond that of purely business or collaboration. But I would love to see David produce his own CD since he is such a talented writer, musician, and performer.
I haven’t seen many concerts in my lifetime, though the list of them is quite eclectic, starting with the Beach Boys in 1965, three unintentional Mother’s of Invention concerts from 1969 to 1975, the Sons of Champlin [any guesses about that one?] and Herbie Handcock while living in AZ, to volunteering at an outdoor theater this summer that also presented several folk concerts. That’s not the whole list of concerts but a fair idea of the diversity. But of all of them the best concert, performance, was hearing George Benson, 1975 in Phoenix, AZ, a concert pure and simple, beautiful and jazz. I would have to rate Gillian Welch’s concert as a close second best and would pay good money to see her again. That’s saying a lot, as I’ve never paid for any concert!
I stayed away from music for about a decade seeking silence during my more intensive mothering years. Volunteering at the various concerts this summer exposed me once again to that elusive genre of folk, country, blue grass, primitive music that I had once loved so well. During the “Mutual Admiration Society/Nickel Creek” concert I whooped and hollered and sang along with the crowd and loved every wild loud minute, every song. With Gillian Welch [and David Rawlings] I sat entranced, barely breathing so as not to miss a single sound. I rate Gillian Welch, et al, as one of the USA’s best performers, song writers, and all-around musician. Her contributions to “Oh Brother!” and other movies has been noteworthy and eminent. I hope to have many more years of listening pleasure of Gillian Welch’s songs and voice. She is a national treasure, though way too far under the public radar. Maybe, that’s just as it should be: a national, yet quite personal private treasure.
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