Me, Gil & Perfection

Some time in the late 90s I was listening to the Mike Harding show on Radio 2 (always a joy), and his guest was a then-new American singer-songwriter, born in California but singing songs infused with the spirit of old Appalachian mountain music.

Although I had heard and loved isolated exemplars of Bluegrass (a childhood tape of Mark O'Connor's 'Pickin' in the wind', Dylan's 'Nashville Skyline Rag'), this had always been music of excitement, of dance, of joyous abandon. But this sound that came from my wireless that evening was something older, something wilder, something that exuded the fey, lonesome keening I found and loved in celtic singers like Donovan and Christy Moore. It hit me in the stomach, and I knew this was the soundtrack I wanted for my death. This was the sound of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings.

I had taped the show and listened to the session repeatedly, and bought the album and lived in it for weeks. Although I heard fragments of blues, country, bluegrass and folk in there, there seemed to me be an alchemy that wrought something new from these filigree strands.

Since then, every Gillian Welch release has been my obsession, with 2001's 'Time (The Revelator)' being possibly my favourite all time album; I have joined up far more of the jigsaw of influence, what Duck Baker calls the roots and branches of American music; I discovered the amazing tradition, in part a transmutation of European folk styles, that is a jumping off point for their music; I found and delighted in artists like Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley and Norman Blake. But it still seems to me that there is a perfection in what they do, that sits apart from any consideration of style, influence, authenticity (whatever that is) or era. For me, at their best, they acheive peerless perfection.

So it is with such joy that I heard Bob Harris (Radio 2 again!) last night announce her new album 'The Harrow & the Harvest' due on June 28th this year. For the moment, I content myself with the fragile beauty they have already brought to the world. This performance from the NPR 'Tiny Desk Concert' series is a a fantastic example of their still achingly beautiful music. Enjoy.