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HSBG Preview: Gillian Welch 

Wednesday, Sep 30 2015
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"I've always tended to listen to music backwards," Gillian Welch says. "When I started listening to REM and The Stones, the music sent me back to the early rock artists. When I heard electric blues, it was the same, back to Muddy Waters. Bluegrass led me to Bill Monroe and the Carter Family. There's a roughness, when a thing is on the cusp of its own invention. When people don't quite know what they're doing, there's an appealing, unselfconscious edge to the music."

Welch captures that primal, unpolished edge whenever she writes a song or makes an album. Despite formal training at Boston's Berklee School of Music, her work has a stark, acoustic feel, with bare-bones production and a sound that could have been cut in the 1920s. The five albums she's made with her partner, guitarist/singer/producer David Rawlings — Revival, Hell Among the Yearlings, Time (The Revelator), Soul Journey, and The Harrow and the Harvest — reflect on the hardscrabble lives of working-class Americans, but her plaintive vocals are offset by the sparkling interplay between her and Rawlings' guitars.

Their music evokes the songbook of classic country, folk, and bluegrass songs, while Welch's plain-spoken delivery hints at tumultuous emotions barely under control. If you're familiar with the history of American folk and country music, the quotations — both musical and lyrical — the duo drops into their tunes add even more texture to songs that are already allusive and nuanced. When they play live, there's no obvious showmanship in the performance, but the spell they cast with Welch's brokenhearted alto, Rawlings' harmony work, and their two guitars, is irresistible. They're timeless but contemporary — a feat few artists can accomplish.


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