The Quest For Real Country Music

III-5. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings – The Godparents of The New Revivalists

February 9th 2017 4:20 pm

Divinity encompasses her presence.

Driven by the desire to be in a songwriter’s town, Welch moved from Boston, as a Berkley Alumni, to Music City in the summer of ’92. As everyone shares a story of when they first move to town, the commonality creates the “pay it forward” approach knitting the scene together. Welch’s first apartment found through the help of Nanci Griffith back up singer, Lee Satterfield. Rhode Island native and School of Music mate, David Rawlings, followed suit.

The decent into the depths of the songwriter’s circles had the duo being further invited to share stages. Songwriter best known for Garth Brooks’ “The Dance”, Tony Frata, fostered them into the Nashville rite of passage of performing at Douglas Corner Cafe and soon the opportunities were presented. Gillian Welch, the duo comprised of herself and Rawlings, would sing of suppression and sorrow – staying in town as direct support for Townes Van Zandt, going out of town with Guy Clark. Coming into the feed of the New Traditionalist movement, Steve Earle established. Stuart, Strait, Travis, Gill, Carpenter and Judd.

An evening on 12th Avenue sparked the professional relationship between Gillian Welch and producer, T Bone Burnett. Badgered by industry to drop Rawlings from her project, Burnett shared in Welch’s vision and Rawlings’ worth, producing the team’s minimalist masterpiece. Their 1996 debut attracted the attention of The Recording Academy, being nominated for The Best Contemporary Folk Album.

Revival stands like a rural American silo. Welch’s epiphanic moment of first hearing The Stanley Brothers as its seed, Burnett’s vast knowledge of American music manifests a Modern Classic. Her voice adopting the oppression of the time when Rawling’s 1935 Epiphone Olympic sold new for thirty-five dollars. His harmony first heard with the line “I have no mother, no father…I am an orphan girl” and his affordable primary instrument securing its seat in sonic history. The collaborative trio continued. Hell Among The Yearlings was followed by Welch acting as associate producer to the award winning O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Her brand embedded in bluegrass, Appalachian and traditional/roots country communities but not without pushback, challenged on her urban California upbringing. Innovative but never to bastardize, Welch annihilates criticisms by abounding artistic quality. Her sound. Their sound.

David Rawlings on the front line of American Primitivism. A brother to the neotraditionalist and a guardian at the gates of twang. His David Rawlings Machine yet to come in the wake of his counterparts ongoing success. The inverted line-up will include a tightened circle of contributors – Connor Oberst, Neil Young, Ryan Adams. He reciprocates by lending his abilities to Adams’ Heartbreaker and Oberst’s Cassadaga. As an honorary member of the energetic Old Crow Medicine Show he hones traditionalist values and produces Gillian Welch’s third record from a similar Burnett palette. It flows with dark themes and mountain music stylings garnering the unit another Grammy nomination in the same category as their debut.

…Revelator is their most genuine reflection of their time in Nashville, 9 years. From the Silver Dollar Saloon and the Station Inn to The Grand Ole Opry and The Ryman Auditorium – the city’s foreboding yet affectionate influence. Its paradoxical desire to modernize itself through its history – one only to come at the expense of the other. Welch and Rawlings living through its nights, awake at its earliest hours and isolated by it. They continued to tour, leaving Nashville to experience another type of solitude – The Road.

Welch released …Revelator on their newly independent venture, Acony Records – named after the Acony Bell flower and her song of the same name. This, due to Universal Music Group purchasing her L.A. based label, Almo Sounds.

The historic RCA Studio B created Nashville’s iconic sound but following its hay-day with Chet Atkins now sits as nothing more than a space. One that David Rawlings takes over at a monthly rate treated as a donation to The Country Music Hall of Fame in their building of a new facility. Moving in home studio gear and giving the original plate reverb chambers an overhaul, the record was made in five weeks. Rawlings and Welch keeping one of their first three takes of each song, two and a half feet from each other allowing microphones to bleed and instinct to guide. The mastering of the record skips adjustments on compression or EQ-ing and goes straight to transfer through a clean signal chain.

Their “hands on” methods motivated a purchase of a more definitive home.

Woodland Studios survived closures and tornados and sits like a castle on Nashville’s east side with its asphalt moat. Main entrance off the west parking lot, its south door displaying the Acony Bell logo. They reversed the 90’s contemporary sound modifications and revitalized the tone with linoleum floor and acoustic tiles. The room being an active ingredient in records to come: Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker, Gillian Welch’s Soul Journey, Robyn Hitchcock’s Spooked and Rawling’s debut Friend of a Friend.

8 years pass and the popularity of an alternative to the alternative sees young faces replace The New Traditionalist Movement. Nashville’s Substance Recession has shown its head. Goofy theatrics replace time-honoured geographical influence with zero regard. Content like fodder, one dimensional and offensive. Country Music in a blanketed sense gives sky rocketing financial returns but blasphemously melds all into an encompassing “monogenre”, as labelled by the resistance efforts of Saving Country Music’s “Triggerman”. The popular blogs sole contributor acting as the first line of defence and empowering the successors that value Country Music’s traditional core. The one’s learning their craft citing Rawlings and Welch’s impact and acknowledging the duo’s timing – aged enough to brag connection to Van Zandt, moulded by Burnett and innovators in the do-it-yourself indie age. If Earle was in Nashville to aid the New Traditionalist Movement, then Rawlings and Welch came at a time to god-parent one of their own.

With ever increasing anticipation, The Harrow & The Harvest signals the turning of the tide. Independently released, it achieves modernism and lore. “The Way…”, beginning three separate track titles give a sense of forgiveness through acceptance. The idea that passivity trumps aggression. The album title signifying a complete journey – preparation for seed and reaping of labour. An epic of their own movement to come.

(www.npr.org)

1973’s Tom Wolfe classic, The New Journalism states nonfiction as “the most important literature being written in America today.” A declaration of Truth. This rallied a breed of journalists, guerilla in their approach. Narrative and methodological, the conveyers immersing themselves in the stories of others, applauding social realism. From this method came an evolved version decades later coined by Robert S. Boynten as “The New New Journalism”. Its disciples addressing social and political concerns. Boynten calls them “rigorously reported, psychologically astute, sociologically sophisticated, and politically aware”. Continues, “‘New New Journalism’ may well be the most popular and influential development in the history of American literary non-fiction.”

With similar attributes, today’s Real Country Music artists see their pivotal roles in today’s social influence. Bearing the stories of the suppressed and extending their necks at the risk of persecution. They honour their predecessors in message and traditionalisms.

At the risk of replication those artists could be identified in Boynten fashion, as “The New New Traditionalists” but in honour to the Godparents of their movement, “The New Revivalists” rings truer by definition.

…And here I stand in the presence of their royalty.