Tag Archives: Gillian Welch

Sara Watkins, Sara Watkins

sara-watkinsSara Watkins
Sara Watkins

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Since the announcement of the “indefinite hiatus” of progressive acoustic darlings Nickel Creek, despite a history of diverging solo work, releases from Chris Thile and Sean Watkins have been shackled by expectations of a Creek-like sound. Much like releases from her former band mates, Sara Watkins’ self-titled debut is not a surrogate Nickel creek album. Instead, it is an album that is purely individual, combining the talent that we have already witnessed with more than a few surprises.

Opening with “All this Time,” a rolling country tune driven by pedal steel and the familial blending of Sean Watkins on background vocals, we are treated to a contemporary cut that draws heavily on traditional country sounds. Other successful uses of pedal steel include a smoky rendition of Tom Waits’ “Pony,” and “Any Old Time,” a Jimmie Rodgers song, performed as western swing.

Produced by John Paul Jones, the album continues with a collection, which while grounded in bluegrass and country, is as complex and eclectic as the guests that play on it. Among the artists making appearances are bluegrass artists Rayna Gellert, Ronnie McCoury, Tim O’Brien, and Chris Eldridge; Americana artist Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings; and former Nickel Creek band mates Chris Thile and Sean Watkins.

Through covers and original songs, with the exception of the overly slick “Too Much,” each song easily meshes with the next despite its range. There is the hauntingly elegant “Bygones,” with its genre-bending beauty; the energetic “Long Hot Summer Days,” a melding of blues, folk, and bluegrass; and the subtly presented “Give me Jesus,” a traditional song arranged by Sara and Chris Thile. While Watkins was not a major writing contributor to Nickel Creek, she is the sole writer of six of the fourteen tracks for this project.

The album also includes two instrumental tracks. “Freiderick,” as well as “Jefferson,” the former co-written by the two Watkinses and the latter composed by Sara alone, are capable instrumentals with a heavy Celtic influence. It should be noted that the mandolin on both tracks is played by Ronnie McCoury, avoiding a Nickel Creek reunion that—while intriguing–no doubt would have only distracted from the album.

Sara Watkins’ debut is new and refreshing; it is a blending of retro flavors that remains contemporary, while avoiding the manufactured nostalgia that so often creeps into both Nashville and alt-country music.

 

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Say What? – Kristian Bush

I ran across the following quote attributed to Kristian Bush (of Sugarland) in an article in the U.K. newspaper The Independent, frankly titled: “Far from the old country music: Nashville is making yet another attempt to conquer the UK charts with artists who have crossed over so far they are virtually mainstream.”

Bush can barely hide his impatience at alt.country’s arrogance. “The songs that will survive 40 years from now will have to do, not with their excellence at how they interpreted post-modern Appalachia, but how they interpreted the human condition. And in the end, as much as I’m a huge Wilco fan, no one’s going to remember them. They’re going to remember Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” – because that story is true. There’ll be another girl sitting at a window who’s kissed someone and that song speaks to her. And really, [Wilco and ex-Uncle Tupelo singer-songwriter] Jeff Tweedy singing about being lonely and poor and dumped, all these things which he is not…

“There are only so many thirtysomethings who’ll emotionally connect to style over substance, which a lot of [modern] Appalachian stuff is. I’m a huge Gillian Welch fan, but she’s from Malibu, California. I’m from Dolly Parton’s hometown Sevierville, Tennessee. I should be playing what she’s playing, according to our histories. Our song “Baby Girl” deals with some sort of human archetype, anyway, a story of the hero. It just rings differently in your bones. Country music is unafraid of that human substance.”

Without intending to pick on Bush (and still disbelieving that Katy Perry has a tag on Country Universe), do you agree with him?

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Iconic Songs of the Last Decade

I was listening to The Band’s album Music From Big Pink earlier this week, and something struck me about the song “The Weight.” Trust me, you know the song. It goes a little like this: “I pulled into Nazareth / Was feelin’ about half past dead / I just need some place / where I can lay my head.”  Ring a bell yet? No? Try this:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-xQoNDFwlE

In the song, The Band, originally consisting of Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Levon Helm, draws from a familiar cast of characters and American mythology to tell a universal story set in the town of Nazareth, PA. First released in 1968, “The Weight” only reached #63 on the U.S. charts, but has since achieved iconic status. It has become an American standard in a way few songs have accomplished. Indeed, Rolling Stone lists it as the 41st greatest song of all time. 

Further cementing its iconic status, check out a very small sample of the artists  – across genres, of all ages – who have covered the song:

  • Van Morrison
  • Bob Dylan
  • The Black Crowes
  • Little Feat
  • Grateful Dead
  • Travis
  • Old Crow Medicine Show
  • Gillian Welch
  • The Staple Singers
  • Joan Osborne
  • John Denver
  • Deana Carter
  • Weezer
  • Lee Ann Womack
  • Cross Canadian Ragweed
  • Diana Ross, the Temptations and the Supremes
  • The Allman Brothers Band
  • The Marshall Tucker Band
  • Panic at the Disco
  • Aaron Pritchett

Songs with enduring power like “The Weight” are few and far between, and seem to be even more so nowadays. So tonight’s discussion asks:

What songs of the past decade have enduring power? What songs will we be listening to and hear covers of in the next 50 years?

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Bargain Hunter: Gillian Welch (Today Only!)

Gillian Welch, Revival $1.99

Folks, don’t even think twice about this one. If you are a country fan and don’t own Gillian Welch’s wonderful, rootsy debut album, you have no excuse for not clicking the box below and dropping 2 bucks on it. Don’t just take my word for it: listen to the clips and hear for yourself. Entertainment Weekly writer Chris Willman recently named Revival one of the “25 Country Albums You Need to Hear (Even if You Hate Country Music)”, if you need yet another opinion. Unless you’re worried about your little expenses adding up or you don’t like MP3s, you really have nothing to lose and much to potentially gain at this price. But the deal is only good today, so get going!

Buying instructions: click on the big “Play” symbol to play the clips. When they start playing, a little box with information about the track will appear at the bottom of the box. Click where it says the album’s name (Revival) to reach the full album. Alternatively, you can click the yellow “Buy MP3″ button to go to the page of the individual song that’s playing, from which you can also reach the full album’s page.

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