Top 10 songs by Gillian Welch

Singer-songwriter Gillian Welch released her debut album The comeback in 1996 with his musical partner David Rawlings. Since then, the 54-year-old talent has established herself as a beautifully anachronistic artist for our modern times.

In her haunting alto, Welch is a storyteller who unravels the plight of doomed sharecroppers, migrant workers and other burnt-out characters. Since 1998 Hell among the yearlings to 2011 The harrow and the harvest, Welch’s bluegrass is littered with morphine and heroin patterns—his Appalachia knows early death and little mercy.

Welch herself grew up in Los Angeles and attended the University of California, Santa Cruz before attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. It was there that she first met Rawlings and the duo began to hone their craft. The fact that Welch (nor Rawlings) didn’t live the stories they sing didn’t make them any less powerful. Welch has a knack for going back to the past, which she uses to preserve traditional Appalachian, bluegrass, folk and Americana music while telling stories that capture the human experience in its own right. more exposed.

With six full albums to his name and several bootleg volumes by The lost songs available, Welch’s discography is extensive. Read on to see our picks for Gillian Welch’s ten most essential songs, so far.

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    “The Way It Goes”

    Excerpt from: “The harrow and the harvest” (2011)

    If you’re wondering what kind of world you step into when listening to Welch’s records, “The Way It Goes” is a good introduction. The bluegrass track of The Harrow and the Harvest follows the lives of several unlucky characters until they meet their inevitable demise. In the beginning, we meet Becky Johnson when Welch sings, “Becky Johnson bought the farm / Put a needle in his arm / That’s how it goes / That’s how it is.By the end of the song, Welch is done looking outward and considering his own destiny under this ethos: “When you lay me down to rest / Leave a gun in my vest / That’s how it goes / That’s how it is.

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    “Handsome boy”

    From: ‘Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 2’ (2020)

    “Beautiful Boy” came out of a weekend recording session between Welch and Rawlings. After the session, the tracks were hidden away and remained in the archives until Welch and Rawlings decided to review them during the coronavirus pandemic. “Beautiful Boy” was finally released in 2020 on the second volume of The Lost Songs.

    Like many tracks from these sessions, “Beautiful Boy” is less polished than many other Welch and Rawlings recordings. The stripped-down track leaves ample room for tenderness and beauty in the empty space between spare guitar and Welch’s vocals. All of this sticks with the sweet vulnerability of the lyrics: “‘Cause I’m scared of everything / All that romance brings / Giving free gifts you can’t repay / Sad goodbyes in dark houses / And phones, and above all / I’m afraid to break your heart one day .

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    “All the good times are past and gone”

    Excerpt from: “All the Good Times” (2020)

    Welch’s decades-long partnership with Rawlings has made the duo a fine-tuned machine. While Rawlings generally plays in harmony with Welch’s lead on Welch’s solo records, sometimes the roles reverse and the results are just as special.

    On the classic folk tune “All The Good Times Are Past and Gone”, Rawlings takes the lead. Welch’s harmonies have a mournful, howling quality that makes their rendition of the song unforgettable. The song is just one of ten covers from the 2020 album All the good times – the first album that Welch and Rawlings recorded together and released under both of their names.

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    “Annabelle”

    Excerpt from: “Revival” (1996)

    Welch’s debut album, The comeback, was released in 1996 and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Since then, Welch has become a mainstay of folk music as we understand it today. “Annabelle” is one of the most memorable tracks from The comeback.

    Welch sings “Annabelle” from the perspective of a sharecropper who wanted to give his daughter a better life. Instead, “Anna is in the cemetery, she has no life at all / She only has these words on a stone.Although “Annabelle” sounds like it could be a song from over a hundred years ago, its mourning isn’t tied to any particular moment. Welch’s refrain is universal: “And we can’t have everything to please us / No matter how we try / Until we’ve all come to Jesus / We can only wonder why.”

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    “Caleb Meyer”

    From: “Hell Among the Yearlings” (1998)

    Welch never takes his eyes off the dark underbelly of life. She encourages us to join her gaze in songs like “Caleb Meyer,” a track that tells the story of Nellie Kane, a mountain girl who kills her neighbor Caleb Meyer with a glass bottle as he sexually assaults her. The song is gripping for several reasons – not just the content of the lyrics. Welch delivers the story without drama or sentiment, and Rawlings’ guitar is like a train that can’t be stopped.

    What’s most interesting about “Caleb Meyer,” however, is the role God plays in the song — and what that says about the world in which Welch constructs his songs. At the climax of the song, Welch signs “I cried My God, I’m your child / Send your angels down / Then I feel at my fingertips / The bottleneck I’ve found.

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    “Look Miss Ohio”

    From: “Voyage of the Soul” (2003)

    2003 soul journey scored another kind of record for Welch. It’s a summer album – flippant, languid, windows rolled down. You’d be hard pressed to say that of his other recordings, but for soul journey, it fits.

    “Look At Miss Ohio” is one of the most beautiful and successful songs on the album, telling the story of a wayward beauty queen who takes a break from expectations. In 2011, country superstar Miranda Lambert recorded the track and released it on her album Four The Record.

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    “By Brand”

    Excerpt from: “Revival” (1996)

    The nuances of Welch’s voice can shine most fully on the respectful and straightforward anthem “By The Mark.” Although it begins with a nice fingerpicking from Rawlings, most of the song is defined by simple strumming. The voices of the duo are the main instruments here. For a few jaw-dropping moments in the final chorus, Rawlings stops his strumming and the duo go full a capella. It’s breathtaking whether or not you share the faith of the song.

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    “Everything is free”

    From: “Time (The Revelator)” (2001)

    When Welch wrote “Everything’s Free,” Napster had just arrived, altering artists’ ability to earn a living seemingly overnight. She captures the angst of the moment impeccably, never naming Napster or the Internet in her lyrics. She sings, “It’s all free now, they say / Everything I ever did, I’ll give it away / Somebody hit the jackpot, they got it / They was gonna do it anyway , even if it doesn’t pay.”

    In 2018, Welch spoke with Rolling Stone about the song. She said, “There were a number of songs I remember crying about while working on them, and that was the case with this one.”

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    “Developer”

    From: “Time (The Revelator)” (2001)

    When Welch released Time (The Revealer) in 2001, the album received critical acclaim. It has appeared on many “best of the year” lists, including lists of Mojo, The New Yorker, The Voice of the Villageand Uncut.

    Revelator” opens the album, a six-minute, twenty-two-second slow reflection on time. Welch sings, “The lady of fortune came, she walked by / But every word seemed to date her / Time is the revealer, the revealer.” Meanwhile, “Revelator” features some of Rawlings’ best guitar work.

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    “I will fly away”

    From: ‘O brother, where are you?’ (2000)

    “I’ll Fly Away” is one of the most recorded gospel songs of all time. Of the countless recordings to date, Welch’s collaboration with Alison Krauss remains the greatest of all time. The two bluegrass greats recorded the song together for the film’s soundtrack O brother, where are you. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the track features Welch on lead vocals while Krauss provides superb harmonies. Listening to Welch and Krauss unite their voices, it’s not hard to believe they could take flight.


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Grace D. Erickson