Uncut Music Award 2011: Gillian Welch, "The Harrow And The Harvest"
The last in our series of transcripts from the judges' discussions: Gillian Welch, "The Harrow And The Harvest".
Allan Jones: Her first album for eight years, just her and her partner David Rawlings. It’s a very sparse and unadorned record, but simultaneously just so rich in abundance of detail. There are two tracks in particular, “Tennessee” and “Down Along The Dixie Line”, which approach a rare perfection, I think.
Stewart Lee: It’s one of those albums where as soon as it starts you feel as if you’re in safe hands. I like the way the lyrics have original things to say, but at the same time have a relationship with traditional forms, the instrumentation of it. I kind of miss the fact that on her album Time (The Revelator) she started to get into more experimental areas, and I was hoping after such a long lay-off she might have gone further into that territory, that odd meeting place she seemed to be in of borderline avant garde and more traditional country music.
It’s hard to make a case for it, in a way, because it’s doing something that already exists, she’s not necessarily breaking new ground. But I think it’s a fantastic record.
Nick Stewart: Her last record [Soul Journey] was a thing of rare beauty, and I loved it. So it may surprise you to learn that I found this to be the most disappointing record in our bunch. I wanted so much more from it, I thought it was too sparse, there was something missing for me. I found myself thinking “Is this the best you can come up with?”, I really did. I was quite cross with her. I wanted to be absolutely blown away with some interesting musical ideas and tunes. I’m sorry, but there are not many tunes on this, in my opinion. I’m afraid I was disappointed, but having said that I’ll probably return to it and find I like it more.
Mark Cooper: I think she’s one of the best artists on the planet, I love the world she writes about. What she’s doing is almost perverse, I remember somebody years ago describing it as Depression chic. Here’s this smart young couple, now in their early 40s, who’ve imagined this whole world that isn’t really there, but they’ve created this emotional dynamic that you totally believe in. They’ve brought this sort of post-modern art form to bluegrass, or mountain music. I think it still works.
She reminds me of Morrissey, bizarrely, because there’s this weird kind of personal doom in her writing and her sense of hard times, you can hear it in “Dark Turn Of Mind”. The way that Morrissey writes religiously for his sense of self-pity, she writes for a similar kind of mindset, and I love her for it.
Phil Manzanera: I hadn’t heard any of her previous records, but I think this is a great album. I bought this about two months ago, independently of it being considered for this award, and it’s really stayed with me, it’s got legs. The songs are beautifully crafted, some of them sound like songs you think you’ve known all your life.
Tony Wadsworth: She’s one of my favourite artists ever, although I never think of her as a solo artist because I think what David Rawlings brings to the music is equally important. The quality is amazing, they’re the best two-part harmonies since... Richard & Linda Thompson.
Linda Thompson: Haha!
Tony Wadsworth: It’s interesting that they’ve chosen to go towards this very stripped-down way of working. It’s a remarkable album, you listen to it and ask yourself are these traditional songs that have been around for hundreds of years? They feel very real, and they can do no wrong in my book.
Linda Thompson: They’re fantastic. I’ve been listening to Gillian and David for 20 years, and while this is not my favourite record of theirs it’s still better than most people’s best records. I think they are traditional artists, they operate in a framework that is very traditional. He’s a great guitarist, I love his playing, and she sings magnificently. They’re the real deal.