Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

Waxed - Record Review from Issue #17 Sept-Oct 1998

Gillian Welch

Hell Among The Yearlings (Almo)

In a recent concert, Gillian Welch wryly noted that a fan had brought to her attention a fact about herself she had never considered. Namely, that as a writer she has two great themes: flowers and death. If pressed for two words to describe Welch’s latest offering, Hell Among The Yearlings, you could do worse than to say “no flowers.”

The album-opening “Caleb Meyer” tells the graphic tale of a would-be rapist slain by his intended victim. Shortly thereafter, “One Morning” etches the indelible image of a wayward son returning home, dead and bloody and still astride his mount. Like many an Appalachian song, and the English and Scottish ballads that inspired them, Welch’s grisly new tales have a dreamlike quality, a paradoxical lightness that transforms their horrific subject matter into bewitching surreality.

The secret to this alchemy seems to be that Welch has learned the rudiments of clawhammer banjo and begun composing in the style. More fluid and lyrical, less staccato than the finger-picked bluegrass approach to banjo, the older clawhammer style readily yields a baleful, primitive sound more blues than bluegrass, as any Doc Boggs fan can attest. On “The Devil Had A Hold Of Me”, Welch captures the childlike simplicity and deep tragic sense that are inseparable, indeed, one and the same, in this style.

So, yes, Gillian Welch and partner David Rawlings are still in their “revival” mode. Indeed, Yearlings distances itself far more from the modern pop idiom than their Grammy-nominated debut, Revival. Similarly, the pared-down, largely duo performances (two guitars or guitar and banjo) and “live” production style give Yearlings a much less polished, more immediate feel.

But all is not death and destruction. There’s also dissolution. In fact, this topic seems to have an unnatural appeal to the rather fresh-faced Welch and Rawlings. Borrowing the narcotic languor of the Revival track “Paper Wings”, the duo sing a song of failed romance between a user and his chemical paramour, “Morphine”. The song all but floats on opiate wings while Welch and Rawlings unfurl a blissed-out yodel. “Whiskey Girl” likewise lists toward a euphoric underworld of temporary charms.

But it’s on “Good Til Now” that they fully realize their delirious intentions. With Rawlings’ pianistic guitar lending its usual, quietly breathtaking palette of color, Welch sings in a diaphanous drawl of the lure of dissolution and one man’s final surrender thereto: “Good-bye darlin’/I been good ’til now.” When Rawlings adds his vocal harmony in the third verse, you realize how peculiar his identity is in this duo. So seamlessly joined, so sympathetic in spirit are Rawlings’ harmonies that they’ve become both definitive and invisible.

With Hell Among The Yearlings, Welch and Rawlings have asked a bit more of their newfound fans. They’ve dug deeper into the past and found there an idiom peculiarly suited to a darker vision than modern pop forms are given to. It’s a vision Greil Marcus writes of as belonging to “the old, weird America.” Funny how true it feels to the new, weirder America that rolls around each day.

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108

Discuss

Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Originally Featured in Issue #17 Sept-Oct 1998

Cover of Issue #17 Sept-Oct 1998

Sorry, this issue is SOLD OUT

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »


From the Blogs

  • Exclusive Premiere of Cowboy Jack Clement's "Let the Chips Fall"
    Cowboy Jack was one of the most beloved country and Americana artists of his generation. For proof, just look at the list of artists who showed up to lend a hand on his final album: John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Bobby Bare, Duane Eddy, T Bone Burnett, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Rodney Crowell, Buddy Miller, Dan Auerbach, Leon Russell, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlin […]
  • Easy Ed's Sideshow of Solos, Duets and Ensembles: Session #42
    Welcome to the 42nd installment of random thoughts, trivial facts. occasional fiction, poetry, haikus, photos, artwork, stories of fleeting fame and dastardly deeds, and videos or tunes that may have caught my attention or fancy of late. As you can see by the picture at the side, I've got dessert on my mind, and in particular...pies. The Oxford Companio […]
  • St. Vincent in Concert: As Performance Artist, Annie Clark Shows Her True Colors
    One of the most intriguing aspects about attending a St. Vincent concert is the anticipation. What will Annie Clark do next? That’s what one high-strung son of someone was thinking for the rest of us while pressed up against the barrier leaving just enough breathing room between entertainer and her target audience as March wound down while that inevitable da […]
  • Lone Justice - This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983 (Album Review)
    Much bootlegged, these landmark early studio recordings by Lone Justice are finally given an official release. By December 1983, performing their swashbuckling fusion of punk and country, Lone Justice were consistently playing ‘sold out’ sets in L.A.’s numerous rock clubs. That month Maria McKee (lead vocal, guitar), Ryan Hedgecock (guitar, backing vocal), M […]
  • Stace England & The Salt Kings – America, Illinois (Album Review)
    Let me tell you a little about Stace England.  Back in 2005 or so, Stace and the boys put out an album titled Greetings From Cairo, Illinois which music critic Greil Marcus put in his Top Ten albums of that year.  They followed it up in 2007 with Salt Sex Slaves, another historically apt musical look behind the facade of reality-as-told.  (Here is part of th […]
  • Young Brits Climbing the Ladder: Blair Dunlop and Ward Thomas
    Ah, sweet  youth. Time for an update on Blair Dunlop and Ward Thomas, two young British music talents that  I have mentioned before on these pages and who are worth keeping an eye on. Dunlop turned 22 in February. He is a folk-country singer with an impressive musical pedigree (his dad is British folk icon Ashley Hutchings) and who, I have just learned playe […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!


Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter